For many years, there’s been an expectation that major presidential candidates from both parties would sit down for in-depth interviews on the Sunday shows. This year, Mitt Romney is the only Republican in the 2012 field who refuses. As Gail Collins put it the other day:

Romney hasn’t done a Sunday talk show since “The Hurt Locker” beat “Avatar” for best picture. He is generally kept so far away from one-on-one interviews that he might as well be wrapped in cellophane. While stuffed in a laundry hamper. Which would eventually be installed in a campaign bus that could just drive around states that are in play, while never actually leaving the highway.

This week, of course, is no exception. It’s gotten so bad that Jon Huntsman created a website called “Scared Mittless,” devoted to highlighting the desperation with which Romney avoids the Sunday shows — and even regular ol’ press conferences. (There’s even a running clock showing the time since Romney’s last Sunday show appearance. It currently stands at over 634 days.)

At first blush, this may seem surprising. Romney is supposed to be the smart, serious Republican, able to answer questions in complete sentences and with passable grammar. He should be the last GOP candidate who’d be afraid of tough interviews.

But he appears to be terrified. Part of this is the result of Romney only giving the appearance of competence — which is obviously far different than actual competence — along with his discomfort with being challenged and larger play-it-safe strategy.

Romney’s reluctance to answer questions appears to be annoying journalists in greater numbers.

Hounded by reporters wanting their questions answered today on the ropeline after an event in Tampa, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney refused to engage, telling the scrum, “Guys we have press avails or press conferences almost every day and that’s when I answer the questions.”

Not quite.

Romney’s last press conference was nearly a week ago on November 23 in Des Moines, Iowa. The one before that? November 19 in New Hampshire. And a full week before that Romney held a press conference in Mauldin, S.C, on November 11. And in October, he held just three press availabilities total.

At this point, the Republican politician is limiting his media interactions to Republican media. This week, Romney talked to Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Fox News’ Bret Baier, and the cast of Fox News’ “Fox & Friends.”

Maybe now would be a good time to turn around a common question the GOP used in 2007: if Romney is too afraid to answer reporters’ questions, is he too afraid to lead?

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.