There's a new documentary, Mitt, that takes a look at the Mitt Romney presidential campaigns. The film is getting a lot of attention, and causing many journalists to wonder why the Mitt Romney in the film wasn't the one who ran for president.
It's a bit like asking why drinking a particular brand of beer doesn't make you as popular with attractive strangers as the beer ads promised.
The film was discussed on NBC's Meet the Press (1/26/14), introduced with a graphic reading "Romney Revealed." After playing a clip of a comedy routine Romney performed with NBC host Jimmy Fallon, Meet the Press's David Gregory said, "Hey, where was that Mitt Romney, right?" Former Romney adviser Mike Murphy weighed in: "He is a very funny guy in real life…. You get a three-dimensional picture of him."
Also on Meet the Press, New York Times Washington bureau chief Carolyn Ryan explained that she had covered Romney in the '90s, and back then, "you sort of saw that droll, kind of self-mocking sense of humor…and that's the first time, in that documentary, where I've seen it again."
On CBS's Face the Nation (1/26/14), host Bob Schieffer said, "About halfway into it, I thought, why didn't the guy I'm seeing here run for president?" He added that "the Romney in that film was a far more likable guy than the candidate we saw. In American politics, that counts for a lot."
On ABC's This Week (1/26/14), Jonathan Karl set up a report with this: "A side of Mitt Romney we rarely saw during his White House run. And now a new documentary is pulling back the curtain even more." Correspondent Martha Raddatz explained:
Those close to him always said, if only Americans knew the real Mitt. A new documentary, screened at Sundance last week and released on Friday, introduces anyone with a Netflix subscription to the real Mitt.
On NBC Nightly News (1/24/14), correspondent Peter Alexander said that "in just 90 minutes, the filmmaker really conveys this warm, human side of Mitt Romney, something that in covering his 2012 campaign, I can tell you his veteran consultants constantly struggled with. Ultimately, they failed to accomplish." And that morning, Today show co-host Savannah Guthrie interviewed Romney, asking him this question:
One of the things that people say about this movie is it manages in 90 minutes to do something that your campaign never could, which is really show who you are, this personal side of you. Do you think that's true? I mean, is this the real Mitt Romney?
It is bizarre to watch journalists imagining that a filmmaker who is close to–and obviously fond of–his subject might be providing anything like the "real" version of that person. It's a snapshot, likely every bit as contrived as a campaign ad or a stump speech. Journalism is–hopefully–an effort to challenge such image-making, not celebrating its authenticity.
And the other point: The idea of democracy is that politicians are supposed to run based on the policies they intend to implement if they win office. The goal of election coverage should be to explain to the citizenry what the candidates are proposing to do in office, whether they are likely to do these things and what would happen if they did them. The fact that the public didn't get a chance to see enough of the "fun" Mitt Romney, or the guy being a good father or grandfather, is irrelevant. Mitt is not "Romney Revealed," and it is troubling that so many journalists seem to think a puff piece offers a glimpse at the "real" version of a politician.