Friday, December 21, 2007

UPDATE Romney and the Dictionary

Update 3: The Washington Post upgrades its Fact Checker rating of Mitt Romney and his Martin Luther King claim to "four Pinocchios," which means a seriously large whopper. Keep reading if you haven't been following this but basically: Romney claimed to have seen his father marching with Dr. King, then later said he meant that figuratively, not literally. Then on the Friday afternoon news dump to, 2 witnesses claimed to have seen Gov. George Romney and King marching together in Grosse Pointe, Mich. Then, this weekend, the Washington Post and the Boston Phoenix blew a hole in that story too.
I keep going back to this story because in the beginning, I thought we sometimes get ensnared in too many petty details at the expense of bigger issues in the campaign. And because we need to make sure reporters are keeping up on this story and render the facts correctly as they develop. But this story continues to be very weird.

From the Washington Post:

After news reports challenged Mitt Romney's repeated accounts of his father marching with Martin Luther King, his campaign put a reporter from Politico in touch with eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen the former Michigan governor "hand in hand" with the civil rights leader. But their memories are almost certainly flawed as contemporaneous news reports show that King was addressing a meeting in New Jersey at the time the eyewitnesses supposedly saw him in Grosse Pointe, MI.
And, also from Michael Dobbs of the Fact Checker:

I called up one of the eyewitnesses cited by Politico and the Romney campaign, Ashby Robertson, a data collector now living in Massachusetts. Robertson told me that he called the Romney campaign last week because he had vivid memories of the Grosse Pointe march and was upset by media reports challenging the Mitt Romney version.
"I was fifteen feet away from them [Romney and MLK]," said Robertson, 64, who attended Grosse Pointe high school. "You don't forget that kind of thing."
When I told Robertson that news reports placed Martin Luther King in New Jersey at the time, he replied: "Well, it was somebody who certainly looked like him."

UPDATE 2: And yet another turn, Talking Points Memo rounds up some links that seem to prove that Gov. George Romney DID march with Dr. King. Curiouser and curiouser.

UPDATE: It gets better, according to the Boston Globe:

Mitt Romney went a step further in a 1978 interview with the Boston Herald. Talking about the Mormon Church and racial discrimination, he said: "My father and I marched with Martin Luther King Jr. through the streets of Detroit."

Yesterday, Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom acknowledged that was not true. "Mitt Romney did not march with Martin Luther King," he said in an e-mail statement to the Globe.


Ah, the dictionary enters the political arena.

This is Mitt Romney explaining his statement that he "saw" his father, George Romney, "march with Martin Luther King."

A defensive Romney was peppered with questions today on exactly what he meant when he said -- most recently on Meet the Press -- that he "saw" his father march with Martin Luther King Jr. Recent articles have indicated that his father, the late Michigan Gov. George Romney, didn't march with the civil-rights leader.

Admitting that he didn't see the march with his own eyes, he said, "I 'saw' him in the figurative sense."

"The reference of seeing my father lead in civil rights," he said, "and seeing my father march with Martin Luther King is in the sense of this figurative awareness of and recognition of his leadership."

"I've tried to be as accurate as I can be," he continued, smiling firmly. "If you look at the literature or look at the dictionary, the term 'saw' includes being aware of -- in the sense I've described.

Now, personally, I often think there are many more important things* to write about instead of automatically seizing on minor word choices in many candidate comments. When we complain about candidates and their surrogates seeming stiff and formulaic, why do we suppose that is? Here, we're concentrating on whether Romney was speaking literally (he definitely wasn't) or figuratively (that's what he says now) or his mixup of Super Bowl and World Series events. I can't stand this urge to hold every candidate to perfection, 100 percent of the time, in every single comment or word choice when we're not perfect** and am fed up with snarky shit passing as journalism or commentary.
But Romney's comment is a biggie in terms of race and given the not-so-distant LDS policy on black members, he needs to be much more careful when dealing with any and all race-related questions. Heck, any white person needs to think twice before invoking any variation of the "some of my best friend are" kind of claim.

*Domestic spy satellites
Mortgage mess
Military readiness
CIA torture
the Federal Election Commission
Election dirty tricks
Auto emissions
**Today's language outrage: I saw a newspaper headline that used "gift" as a verb, as in "Celebrity 'X' Gifts $5,000 to Alma Mater" as if "give" wouldn't have worked just fine.

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