Addressing editors in Washington, Mitt Romney becomes media critic

WASHINGTON – Mitt Romney is often guarded around members of the media. As governor, he famously installed velvet ropes at the State House that prevented much interaction with reporters. During this campaign, he’s gone weeks at times without holding a press conference, and he’s one of the only candidates not to appear on NBC’s “Meet the Press.’’

But on Wednesday morning, before a ballroom of media executives, Romney played the role of media critic. He lamented some of the cuts in the news industry, and some shifts that have come with a 24-hour news cycle.

“In just the few years since my last campaign, the changes in your industry are striking,’’ he told a gathering of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Before, his speeches would be dissected online hours after they were completed. Now, there is instantaneous reaction on Twitter, he said (as reporters in the back of the room rushed to tweet his remarks).

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“In 2008, the coverage was about what I said in my speech,’’ Romney said. “These days, it’s about what brand of jeans I am wearing and what I ate for lunch.’’ (For the record, today he was in a suit and tie, and it’s unclear what he had for lunch.)

“In some of the new media,’’ Romney added, “I find myself missing the presence of editors to exercise quality control. I miss the days of two or more sources for a story – when at least one source was actually named.’’

While he has a staff that can be combative with reporters, Romney himself has rarely criticized the media the way other presidential candidates have. Newt Gingrich made it a point to rail against the questions from moderators at debates. Rick Santorum last week got red-faced during an interaction with the New York Times’ Jeff Zeleny.

Romney, often criticized in the news media for being unable to connect with voters, on Wednesday morning instead tried to connect with news executives over his interactions with their staff.

“Over the last 10 months, I’ve come to know a good deal about some of the journalists who write for your newspapers,’’ he said.

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“We’ve aired our dirty laundry together – sometimes literally as well as figuratively,’’ he added, a reference to bumping into the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker in a Marriott guest laundry room in Columbia, S.C. “We’ve bathed hour upon hour in the fine diesel aroma of a campaign bus. And we’ve shared more birthdays and holidays with each other than with our families.’’

He mentioned, specifically, providing a birthday cake to Maeve Reston of the Los Angeles Times.

“For Maeve’s birthday, I got her a cake and sang her a birthday song,’’ Romney said. “For my birthday, she was kind enough to remind me that I’m now old enough to qualify for Medicare.’’

Romney then suggested to the room that both he and the news media have a shared goal: dissecting the record of President Obama.

“He is intent on hiding,’’ Romney said. “You and I will have to do the seeking.’’

Romney later declined to take a position on whether there should be a federal shield law, which would protect reporters from having to reveal confidential sources.

“Do I see a role for confidential sources? Yes,’’ Romney said. “Can I ever imagine a time when a source would need to be revealed? Yeah, I can imagine that too. I know that sounds like a conflict and that’s why I have to give this a lot more thought.’’

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