Our political Question of the Day comes from CBS’ Bob Schieffer, who, as I’ve said before, should have been the successor to Walter Cronkite. But it’s a question that has an answer I’m sure Mr. Schieffer knows and journalists know — and Democrats and Republicans know.
Once again on Sunday, he hit Ed Gillespie mid-talking point (as Robert Gibbs chuckled).
“You think we’re ever going to see [Mitt Romney] on one of these Sunday morning interview shows? I know he does Fox, but we’d love to have him some time, as would “Meet the Press” and the ABC folk, I would guess,” the CBS “Face the Nation” host asked Sunday.
Gillespie, an adviser to the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, pointed out that Romney spoke “to schoolchildren last week.”
Then, he said he’d take Schieffer’s suggestion under careful consideration. “We’ll have to consider a number of options, and I’m sure the morning shows are [some] of them,” Gillespie said.
Schieffer, pointedly, politely replied: “I know schoolchildren are happy to see him.”
Even a carton of cottage cheese sitting on the shelf at Albertson’s grocery store in San Diego knows the real answer to that one.
Romney is following the path of many conservative Republicans in using Fox News as a way to avoid having to answer those pesky, non public relations, non softball questions and follow up questions that he’d get on CBS, NBC, ABC — or, for that matter, by holding the kind of press conference Barack Obama does and take questions from the press.
With the exception of an occasional question from Chris Wallace or Bill O’Reilly indicating they have strayed from the operative political program, Fox News is where Republicans running from office know they will get a)long segments and lots of air time almost any time they want to go on b)softball questions or leading questions where the candidate can regurgitate talking points, try out new attack lines c)a huge audience since Fox News is the ratings leader d)an audience of Republican partisan and independents who lean Republican but probably not liberals, centrists or independent voters who suspect Fox News’ “Fair and Balanced” actually refers to the New York State Fair and Roger Aisles checkbook.
Sean Hannity in particular (whose contract was just renewed by Fox) is a huge hit with partisans in his incarnation of political defense lawyer (for Republicans and conservatives) and political prosecutor (of Democrats, liberals, and moderates).
When he interviews Republicans, Hannity plays softball more often than we did when I was a kid living on Knollwood Drive in New Haven, Connecticut.
It’s all matter of P.R — and staying on script: now that the Republican primaries are over and the GOP is unifying around Romney, if Romney gets off script and makes a gaffe on Fox News, more likely than not his interviewer would gloss over the gaffe, try to discreetly explain it away and re-ask the question so he can answer it in a more advantageous way.
But, above all, on Fox News there won’t be tough follow up questions.
On Fox Romney won’t have to face serious “gotcha” questions because the “gotcha” questions are often tough questions or require answers that might not have been expected so there is no answer to vomit up just like the partisan, talking points reciting, talking head spinners and surrogates do all the time on cable news shows.
On the other hand, Fox News’ critics shouldn’t forget that the network has a huge staff and there are highly professional news gatherers there and some anchors who haven’t become as predictable as the political emails I get in the mail where you just see a name on it and you know exactly what it’ll say.
My prediction: Romney will do some kind of big non-Fox interview before the election and he’ll be equipped before hand with some zingers aimed at the press, emulating Newt Gingrich. Romney may get follow ups but he may choose not to answer them or to change the subject by going after the press — which will bring cheers from his supporters and generate lots of sound bites, news stories and blog posts that will overshadow the question he ignored.
Meet the Press? Maybe. Face the Nation? Maybe.
Lots of Fox News and Sean Hannity? And softball questions to GOPer Romney from Hannity?
And what’s true today would not have been true 10 years ago: Romney can get away with it.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.