Santorum and the press

21 Feb

We turn our attention to GOP presidential maybe-nominee Rick Santorum.

We’ve sort of ignored him up to now (with these exceptions here and here) because he had “also ran” written all over him from the beginning.

Now, as people get tired of Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, Santorum seems to be the flavor of the week for the we-don’t-know-what-we-want Republicans.

Rick Santorum’s main complaint about the press used to be that he wasn’t getting enough of it.

But now that he’s surged to the top of the national polls, the former senator’s campaign is growing increasingly upset by a wave of coverage of his views on birth control, abortion, and religion.

His campaign complains those items are a small part of what he’s done and overconcentrating on social areas is doing him a disservice.

Maybe, but Santorum keeps feeding the media beast.

On Face the Nation Sunday, he defended his remarks that President Obama has a “phony theology” not “based on the Bible,” criticized prenatal testing as leading to more abortions, and said the president “has a very bad record on the issue of abortion and on children who are disabled in the womb.”

One can hardly blame Bob Schieffer for zeroing in on that nonsense.

Santorum hasn’t done much media bashing, but he’s capable.

The other day he ripped Charlie Rose for pushing him about a contraception joke told by his biggest financial backer.

In case you didn’t hear it – Foster Freiss, the man supporting Santorum’s super PAC, had told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell that in his day, women practiced birth control by putting an aspirin between their knees.

To say this didn’t go over too well would be an understatement.

Santorum had to know he’d be hearing more about that.

But when Rose popped the question on CBS This Morning, Santorum accused him of playing “gotcha.”

The anchor said no, he he was trying to understand how Santorum’s views differed from Friess’s.

Santorum:
“So now I’m gonna have to respond to when every supporter says something. Look, this is what you guys do. You don’t do this with President Obama. In fact, with President Obama, you went out and defended him from someone he sat in a church for 20 years and defended him with, ‘Oh, he can’t possibly believe what he listened to for 20 years.’ This is a double standard, it’s what you’re pulling off, and I’m gonna call you on it.”

Leaving aside the fact that the media gave candidate Obama a very hard time about this after the story broke, does Santorum have a legitimate beef?

His campaign says “Conservatives in general are held to a different standard than Obama would be held to.”

Something about a “liberal bias” in the press went unsaid – but there anyway.

Let’s be fair.
The Santorum camp has a point, but it’s a point that only goes so far.

Reporters do have a particular fascination with such issues as abortion and gay marriage when covering Republicans.

It’s not just that media types tend to lean left on these social issues, but that these are hot-button wedge issues that divide the country.

But while the press is more interested in Santorum’s verbiage on these matters than, say, his plan to abolish taxes on manufacturing firms, it is also true that Santorum’s uncompromising stance on social issues helps him appeal to evangelical Christians.

And he’s not shy about preaching the virtues of home schooling, another topic that comes up interviews, when he wants to hit on a conservative message.

In that sense, he may be trying to have it both ways.

Santorum said in a 2006 interview that birth control is “harmful to women” and “harmful to society” – positions that hardly place him in the American mainstream.

Still, he says today that while he opposes contraception as a Catholic, he would do nothing to restrict its use.

And, his opposition to abortion – even in cases of rape – may alienate some voters, especially in a general election.

“As horrible as the way that that son or daughter and son was created, it still is her child”, had said. The right approach, he says, is to “accept what God has given to you…I can’t think of anything more horrible, but nevertheless, we have to make the best out of a bad situation.”

What’s happening here is that Santorum is being aggressively questioned by the media for the first time in this campaign, maybe his life.

All but ignored until he managed a win in Iowa, all but written off when he tanked in the next four GOP contests, Santorum has surged since his hat trick of winning Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri.

The press, and the Obama campaign, are now having to confront the possibility that he might win the nomination.

So everything he’s ever said or written is being dug up for inspection in a very compressed time frame.

The candidate, naturally, doesn’t like it.

“This is just crap,” he told National Review, referring to the Friess incident.

The dilemma for Santorum is that he now has to defend on a national stage the kind of rhetoric that worked for him as a conservative lawmaker.

In his 2006 book It Takes a Family, Santorum wrote that “the radical feminists succeeded in undermining the traditional family and convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness.”

Working women didn’t like that at all.

The Santorum staff say some in the press are taking their man’s words out of context.

Highlighting his praise for women who stay at home, for instance, while omitting his comments that mothers have a valid choice in pursuing careers.

But as Mitt Romney has learned with such remarks as “I’m not concerned with the very poor,” it’s awfully hard to explain away dumb utterances, no matter the context.

No one becomes president without going through this kind of media gauntlet.

And if Santorum finds that painful, perhaps he should ask Foster Freiss for an aspirin.

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