Mitt Romney’s Media Admission on "The View"

On Tuesday, Mitt Romney appeared on The View and discussed his likely 2012 bid for the Republican nomination. One of his answers prompted a prominent blogger to declare that Mr. Romney had failed “the smell test.” I disagree.

Mitt Romney

Courtesy Jessica Rinaldi, Wikimedia Commons

When Mr. Romney was asked if he had learned any lessons from his failed 2008 presidential bid, he said:

“I do know that it’s important to make sure that your message is clear and that people understand why you’re running and the purpose of your campaign. The challenge that you have coming from the private sector as I did is when someone asks you a question, you answer it.”

“The challenge I had last time was I answered every question, and sometimes, you need to say: You know, let me quickly answer that question and then get on to what’s really important.”

That prompted writer Christian Heinze (a terrific blogger whose work I generally admire greatly) to write on The Hill’s GOP 12 site:

“That line doesn’t really pass the smell test for any politician, much less one who’s been saddled with the flip-flopper label. It’s the political equivalent of an interviewee saying his weakness is that he “works too hard.”

I disagree with Christian on this one. Mr. Romney is exactly right, and it’s the reason media trainers have encouraged media spokespersons to stay on message for years.

I teach my trainees something I’ve dubbed the “Seven Second Stray,” which means that if a spokesperson is “on message” for 59 minutes and 53 seconds of an hour-long interview, the reporter will almost always use the “off message” seven seconds. Why? Because those seven seconds are usually the least scripted, most interesting thing the person said.

But those seven seconds often have little to do with the key issues of the day. If Mr. Romney answers a question about something Sarah Palin says, for example, that becomes his headline the next day. If he refuses to bite and transitions back to a key point instead, that may become the headline the next day. If Romney thinks he failed on this count in 2008, he’s wise to make the necessary adjustment for 2012.

Far from saying he “works too hard,” he admitted that he failed Media Training 101 during his 2008 run. It’s a candid admission, one that politicians usually only make behind-the-scenes.

If there’s something that doesn’t meet the “smell test,” it’s Mr. Romney’s inference that business executives don’t have to engage with the media in exactly the same way. They do, and I suspect he knows that.