Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign is promising to become more media-friendly after headlines during the Republican candidate's weeklong foreign trip highlighted an increasingly fractious relationship with the press.
Fewer than 100 days out from the election, the campaign is expected to provide more press briefings and heightened access to the candidate in the coming days, and to make changes to the travel pool that will make it more media friendly.
The changes would represent a major shift for the Romney campaign, which so far has offered only extremely limited access to the presumptive Republican nominee, and usually only to favored outlets like Fox News.
“The press's job is to cover every single angle and inch of this campaign, and I think that any campaign operation has to respect that and recognize that with every engagement what we have to do is tell the governor's story,” the aide said. “Does that happen in every instance? Does that happen every single day? No.
“We have 98 days to do our job,” the aide added, “and we'll have to continue to find a balance so that we respect the Fourth Estate and the work that they do.”
Reporters traveling with Romney have repeatedly complained that he has not given them enough time for questions, and tensions came to a boil Tuesday during Romney’s visit to Warsaw’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Reporters, frustrated that Romney had taken only three questions from them during the six-day trip, attempted to shout questions to him as he left the site. Romney's traveling press secretary, Rick Gorka, responded by yelling and cursing at the reporters.
“Kiss my a--,” said Gorka. “This is a holy site for the Polish people. Show some respect.”
Shortly thereafter, Gorka told a second reporter to “shove it.”
Gorka later called the reporters to apologize.
Separately on Tuesday, Romney complained that the press had focused unfairly on his gaffes, and accused reporters of jumping on whatever story they could to avoid writing about the troubled economy and President Obama.
"I realize that there will be some in the Fourth Estate or in whichever estate who are far more interested in finding something to write about that is unrelated to the economy, to geopolitics, to the threat of war, to the reality of conflict in Afghanistan today, to a nuclearization of Iran,” Romney told Fox News. “They'll instead try to find anything else to divert from the fact that these last four years have been tough years for our country.” Republicans sometimes find it useful to run against the media.
“It helps him with the conservative base because the conservative base, much like the far-left, is extremely distrustful of the media,” said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.
But the comments from the Romney aide promising more access suggest the campaign realizes it needs a better relationship with the reporters covering it in order to win come November.
Complaints from the media about the Romney campaign have grown in recent weeks.
Reporters who traveled with Romney to London, Israel and Poland said he had taken only three questions from them during the trip — although the candidate did sit for interviews with many of the major networks.
And Romney’s campaign has been admonished by network stars like NBC's Chuck Todd and Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren for restricting access to the candidate during the trip.
Julie Mason, who serves on the White House Correspondents’ Association board, said reporters are used to having “rough and tumble” relationships with candidates.
“It's part of covering a campaign,” said Mason, who hosts “The Press Pool” on Sirius XM and has covered several presidential campaigns.
But Mason said the incident on Tuesday “reflects a frustration about a lack of access that seems to be reaching a boiling point.”
“He's not very accessible, and yet he's very expensive to cover,” Mason said. Still, Mason added, President Obama “is not much different.”
“The White House also has very restricted access, and in a way, President Obama gives Mitt Romney cover because he's not out there answering questions from the White House press corps,” she said.
Gorka’s outburst was a final media-related distraction for Romney on the overseas trip.
In London, Romney was lambasted by the British press for suggesting that he had observed “disconcerting things” about the city’s readiness to host the Olympic Games.
And in the press conference following a meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron — during which he tried to smooth over the comments — Romney again angered American media members by only calling on British journalists.
Then, on Monday, the Romney campaign objected to an Associated Press report of comments he made at a fundraiser highlighting the “dramatically stark difference in economic vitality” between Israel and Palestine. In the AP story, a spokesman for the PLO denounced Romney’s comments as “racist” and accused the Republican candidate of ignoring the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.
The campaign sent an email to reporters with the entirety of Romney's comments, emphasizing the transcript contained the “full context of Gov. Romney’s remarks.”
In an interview with NBC News, Stu Stevens, a strategist for the Romney campaign, called the story “completely manufactured” and said the Romney campaign was never given a chance to respond to allegations of racism from the PLO official.
On Tuesday, Romney told Fox News his comments had been mischaracterized and that he did not intend to comment on Palestinian culture.
“I'm not speaking about it, did not speak about the Palestinian culture or the decisions made in their economy,” Romney said. “That's an interesting topic that perhaps could deserve scholarly analysis, but I actually didn't address that — certainly don't intend to address that during my campaign.”
Even if Romney is able to convince some voters his remarks were mischaracterized, he could be deducted points just for a perceived inability to handle the media.
“In a campaign for the presidency, if you can't deal with a press corps, how can the American people be certain that you can deal with the problems the country faces?” said Doug Thornell, a Democratic strategist and a former aide to Howard Dean.