Political talking heads on cable such as MBNBC’s Joe Scarborough expressed shocked at this New York Times piece that ran January 28 which basically had a bunch of unnamed sources trumpeting how former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s advisors were so smart and shrewd in turning Romney’s seemingly bumbling campaign around, starting at the last Florida debate. Scarborough and others argued that the aides involved in the piece should be fired for going public to take credit for a candidate’s improved performance.
Now it seems as if the Romney campaign has indeed parted company with someone — but it truly does sound as if this person is a “fall guy.” And it’s the key person that analysts of both parties felt helped Romney sharpen up his debate game: his new debate coach. The Politico:
A GOP operative who won plaudits for bolstering Mitt Romney’s recent debate performances is not being retained by the front-runner’s campaign, an apparent victim of internal tensions over staff receiving too much credit for the candidate’s comeback, POLITICO has learned.
Brett O’Donnell, a former top aide to Michele Bachmann, has been paid for his work assisting Romney in the crucial Florida debates but was not offered a formal role with the campaign as he expected, according to Republican sources familiar with the situation.
O’Donnell received phone calls late last week from two Romney advisers — campaign manager Matt Rhoades and informal adviser Charlie Black — where it was made clear that there was severe discomfort about how his role was being portrayed in the media and that he ought to tread lightly.
This most likely refers to the fact that immediately after the debate talking heads on all of the cable networks noted that Romney had a new debate coach. And that was a political fact. The ones I heard did not diss Romney, but rather, suggested his new coach helped him better organize his ideas and responses to some lingering questions.
Then on Saturday, when The New York Times posted a Sunday story online detailing how Romney’s campaign targeted Newt Gingrich in Florida that again mentioned O’Donnell’s role with the debates, chief Romney strategist Stuart Stevens called O’Donnell. Stevens asked the adviser to contact Jim Rutenberg, one of the Times reporters who wrote the piece, and request that the reporter change the depiction of O’Donnell’s role in what would become a front-page article, according to Republican sources.
The Times altered some of the language relating to O’Donnell in the final story — he was mentioned briefly as only a “debate adviser” — but O’Donnell’s name was not removed. O’Donnell was not quoted in the story.
The campaign was correctly concerned that the impression in the story was that Romney was a kind of pliable political commodity who could only be saved by a smart advisor. Fair enough. But the campaign showed a bit of a lack of media smarts in thinking requesting all references to a name if that name was also mentioned by OTHER sources for the article.
You have to wonder: when did they fall off the turnip truck?
FYI a reporter might repeat might agree to remove a quote if the person quoted asks; but if on cable immediately after the debate the coach’s name was mentioned (IT WAS) and if other sources had mentioned him (they most likely did) they would not remove the reference. Reporters and editors don’t operate like Sean Hannity, whether the news subject is a D or R: they report information, they don’t do reports to explicitly help or hurt a candidate. Their goal isn’t to paper over or to destroy — but to report.
Reached on the phone by POLITICO Friday, O’Donnell declined to comment.
In other words, he wants a future in Republican politics.
Stevens would only say: “I have a great deal of respect for Brett and would welcome the opportunity to work together again down on the road.”
A head of cabbage at Vons grocery store on Adams Avenue will read that quote and say to the tomato beside him: “Hey, this is spin!” And the carrots would agree.
But, according to the Romney campaign last week, O’Donnell was already part of the team.
A former Liberty University debate coach, O’Donnell worked for John McCain’s 2008 campaign and was a senior aide to Bachmann up until her withdrawal from the campaign last month. He’s well-regarded in the Republican operative world and is not generally known as a self-promoter.
As someone who was glued to the cable networks, analysts mentioned his name. Not to sing his praises over and over but AS A FACT: that
Mitt Romney had a new debate coach who was highly regarded who had helped Romney organize his thoughts and reponses for the debates. The difference between Romney with O’Donnell’s help and without was evident for all to see.
Now, though, sources familiar with his thinking say he feels like he has become the fall guy after both senior aides and Romney himself expressed ire about the grab for credit generally and the much-buzzed-about Sunday Times story specifically.
O’Donnell’s understanding was that, following the Florida primary this past Tuesday, he would be tendered a formal offer to advise Romney on debates going forward.
But GOP sources say he was abruptly informed on Wednesday that he would be paid for his work to date but would not retained in any formal capacity.
If you add the CNN report on this it would appear that O’Donnell is indeed being made a fall guy: the Romney campaign is not going after the sources for the Times story, but removing O’Donnell from the campaign since he has gotten too much credit:
But a source inside the campaign told CNN Friday that O’Donnell’s role “was vastly overblown.”
O’Donnell was present in the spin room after the CNN debate in Jacksonville giving credit to Romney for his preparation and work habits.
That night, O’Donnell told CNN that Romney realized after his South Carolina primary loss that he needed to “make some changes strategically” in his onstage message.
“He knew he had to engage Newt more and be better on a couple of answers,” O’Donnell explained. “He worked really hard to get them right, and tonight I saw a vast improvement.”
But in the days after the Florida debates, some Romney advisers groused privately that O’Donnell was being given too much credit for Romney’s performances, and proactively emailed reporters to downplay his role in the campaign.
O’Donnell did not respond to an email seeking comment.
So what do we have here?
P.S. if you want to see REAL SPIN, just watch this:
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.