The Right Scoop has posted video with an open microphone that shows the Romney press corps “coordinating questions to ask Romney," with CBS reporter Jan Crawford saying, “no matter who he calls on, we’re covered on the one question.” They wanted to make Romney take credit or walk back his statement condemning Obama weakness after the embassy attacks: “Do you stand by your statement or regret your statement?” NPR’s Ari Shapiro – the one who won’t say the Pledge of Allegiance – is one of the reporters planning their agenda on the clip.
As one who worked in the White House, it should be said that reporters do sometimes coordinate to get a sense of what they want out of a press conference. But when has the public gotten a sense these journalists have done this to hold Obama accountable? (He didn't take questions this morning, so there could be no plotting today.)
Off camera, you can hear CBS’s Crawford strategizing:
JAN CRAWFORD: That’s the question....Yeah that’s the question. I would just say do you regret your question.
ARI SHAPIRO, NPR: Your question? Your statement?
CRAWFORD: I mean your statement. Not even your tone, because then he can go off on –
SHAPIRO: And then if he does, I think we can just follow up and say ‘but this morning your answer is continuing to sound' –
Then the feed is cut off. Crawford later added, “No matter who he calls on, we’re covered on the one question.” A man who is not Shapiro states, “Do you stand by your statement or regret your statement?”
There’s nothing undemocratic or "corrupt" about journalists working together to decide what a story line is. But that story line can turn out to be a very biased line – as in expressing disbelief that Romney is “doubling down” on his Obama critique. Reporters sometimes mock the idea of a media "conspiracy," but chats like these are certainly collaboration.
People often expect that reporters are competitive in gaining a scoop -- but time in the press corps can convince you that reporters seem more nervous about straying from the journalism of the pack. They may be competitive in booking guests, but they're often not competitive in establishing the theme of the day. They tend to unite on that.
What matters is the end product -- were the reporters fair in their choice of questions? Clearly, conservatives felt this story line sounded more like an attack on Romney than an investigation of the sad events in Benghazi. Jim Geraghty of National Review was tweeting: "Third damn stupid question about the TIMING of Romney's statement. How about some substance?... is no one going to ask about WHAT OUR POLICY MOVES SHOULD BE IN RESPONSE?"
One can cite other, darker examples of coordination, including coordinated censorship – as in Mickey Kaus describing how the press tried to walk away from the Paula Jones sexual harassment charges against Bill Clinton, or the absolute failure of the press corps to coordinate to pressure Clinton repeatedly (if necessary) to answer whether he had raped Juanita Broaddrick
PS: Crawford also says at the very end of the clip, “I shouldn’t have my notebook visible, should I? It says ABC News on it!”