The press doesn’t like being ignored

Six of the major Republican presidential candidates stopped by Fox News on Saturday night to field questions from Mike Huckabee and some GOP state attorneys general. The exchanges weren’t terribly newsworthy, but something transpired behind the scenes that spoke to a larger trend.

Fox News allowed a New York Times reporter to roam around before, during, after the interviews, covering how the candidates and their teams operated. One campaign “stood out by going into defensive mode immediately, insisting that the reporter stay far away.”

[Mitt] Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, was the last to arrive at the Fox News offices in Midtown Manhattan. He came in with his wife, Ann, and a smattering of aides and travel staff, and they quickly settled into a small conference room near the 12th-floor studio.

Spotting the reporter, Mr. Romney’s aides sprang into action, questioning where he worked and what he was doing there, and then insisting that he not physically approach Mr. Romney before or after he was questioned on television by the attorneys general and Mr. Huckabee.

The request was reiterated to executives at Fox News.

Romney’s aversion to media professionals is making the transition from an oddity to a problem. Indeed, the political press will put up with quite a bit, but it really doesn’t like being ignored, and Romney has apparently invited a backlash.

Romney is inaccessible even by the tightly scripted standards of the contemporary campaign bubble: Not only is the candidate kept at arms length from reporters, the campaign typically responds to the news media only when it feels it is in its interest. Inconvenient questions are met with silence. […]

“This is a very poor media operation,” one political director for a leading cable news network complained to POLITICO. “The lack of response to any media request is very frustrating. At least you should acknowledge calls and emails — in their case, it’s like a black hole.”

Romney and his team were “completely accessible” in 2008, when the candidate was eager to raise his national profile, but this year, they’ve gone to the other extreme. Romney felt like he could get away with it — Republican voters already knew him; his rivals were incompetent, and his media-blackout strategy didn’t derail his frontrunner status.

But as the race intensifies, Romney’s don’t-bother-me-with-questions approach is looking far less sound. He’s suddenly in a tough race with Newt Gingrich, and even like-minded media outlets like Fox are pushing back against his refusal to speak to them.

“I think the zeitgeist moment that you’re seeing this week is Romney’s strategy beginning to backfire on him,” Joe Klein told Politico.