“Romney trip begins in shambles,” blared CNN. “Britain is not ready for the Olympics says Mitt Romney,” screamed the U.K.’s Daily Mail. “Mitt Romney’s Olympics gaffe overshadows visit to London,” bellowed Britain’s Telegraph newspaper.
Even the normally even-handed Reuters joined the fracas: “Romney tries to move beyond Britain gaffes,” the news agency said days later.
But guess what? Mr. Romney said nothing of the kind (which might be why Reuters didn’t even bother to repeat the quote that originally set off the whole thing). The “gaffe” was created solely by the media searching — as they often are — for something juicy to write about.
Here’s what the presumptive Republican presidential candidate actually said when asked about London’s preparations by NBC News’ Brian Williams: “There are a few things that were disconcerting, the stories about the private security firm not having enough people, supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging. Because there are three parts that makes games successful. No. 1, of course, are the athletes. That’s what overwhelmingly the games are about. No. 2 are the volunteers. And they’ll have great volunteers here. But No. 3 are the people of the country. Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment? And that’s something which we only find out once the games actually begin.”
“We only find out once the games actually begin” becomes “Romney Says London Not Ready For Olympics”? Really? You bet. Same as it ever was.
In an odd twist, it was CNN’s Piers Morgan who cut through the hype with a little sanity. “It’s no secret over here that for the last three weeks the security around the Olympics has been a shambles,” he said. “The outside firm they got in to run it has been all over the place — they didn’t have enough people and the army had to be drafted in. So, Mitt Romney was only saying exactly what has been happening.”
“I thought it was a bit of a fuss about nothing,” Mr. Morgan said. “He was just speaking the truth, which can sometimes be rather unpalatable.”
He sure was. But that is the nature of the supposed “gaffe.” They are almost always about a remark that is actually true, or a complete misinterpretation of the supposed gaffe — often one that is taken out of context or truncated so as to change the real meaning.
For instance, the media breathlessly reported that Mr. Romney declared “corporations are people,” swooned over his “I like being able to fire people” comment, got all wee-weed up over his heartless declaration that he’s “not concerned about the very poor.” Each was taken out of context and twisted into a different meaning, as was a Romney adviser’s statement about the campaign being “almost like an Etch A Sketch.” Intent: After the GOP nomination battle, you reconfigure to run against a Democrat. Media: Mr. Romney is going to rejigger every single stance he has in a desperate attempt to win.
Of course, gaffes work both ways. Did President Obama really say “You didn’t build that” to self-made small-business owners? Yes. But again, here’s the whole quote in context. “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
It’s true — you didn’t build that road or bridge, not if you’re an electrician or a plumber. And you do use the roads and bridges (although really, you paid for those with your taxes, so you did at least help in their construction).
But gaffes are always that. Did former Vice President Al Gore really say “I invented the Internet’? No. He said: “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” Well, he did.
Did former President George H.W. Bush really express amazement at a grocery store scanner? The New York Times said so, painting a picture of a befuddled, out-of-touch president. Turns out it was all false: Mr. Bush was seeing brand new technology that showed the name of an item and its price on a screen, and which also could read a UPC code despite it being torn or crumpled.
Still, there probably wasn’t much going on elsewhere during “GaffeGate.” Wait, what’s that? The economy slid to 1.5 percent growth from April through June, down from 2.0 percent in the first quarter and 4.1 percent the quarter before that, you say? The New York Times put the story on B1.
By then, though, the press had already moved on to the next scandal/gaffe. “Romney closing Israeli fundraiser to reporters,” wrote the Associated Press’ Kasie Hunt. “Remarks to donors in communal spaces such as hotels are typically public,” she wrote, and: “President Barack Obama allows reporters to hear his words at fundraisers.”
Except for the 38 fundraisers he has closed to the press just this year, including one last week at the District’s Mandarin Hotel. The White House even refused to release the names of the 25 high-rollers invited.
Same as it ever was.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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