The breathtaking dishonesty of Andrea Mitchell

David Cohen Former Deputy Assistant Sec. of the Interior
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Andrea Mitchell’s recent attempt to further the Democratic Party’s narrative about Mitt Romney — that the former Massachusetts governor is “out of touch” — has now been widely exposed as dishonest reporting. Mitchell used a deceptively edited clip to suggest Romney was completely unfamiliar with what average Americans encounter in convenience stores. Bowing to pressure, Mitchell later ran a longer version of the clip that supplied slightly more context. But Mitchell has refused to acknowledge what was so offensively misleading about the original clip — and her gratuitously snarky narration of it. This refusal is as infuriating as her original transgression.

Mitchell’s original report ran on MSNBC on Monday. Speaking to MSNBC contributor Chris Cillizza, Mitchell introduced a clip of Romney’s remarks to a crowd in Pennsylvania: “Maybe this was Mitt Romney’s supermarket scanner moment, but I get the feeling — take a look at this — that Mitt Romney has not been in too many, in too many Wawas along the roadside in Pennsylvania.” Delighted at her own wit, Mitchell started to chuckle toward the end of her introduction. Cillizza, meanwhile, smiled broadly.

For those of you who are completely out of touch with the common folk — or who don’t live in the small number of states that Wawa operates in — Wawa is a regional chain of convenience stores. “Supermarket scanner moment,” of course, is Mitchell’s reference to President George H.W. Bush’s visit to a grocer’s convention during his re-election campaign. As the New York Times told the story at the time, Bush appeared to be “amazed” that supermarket scanners existed — thus proving that he was out of touch with the experience of average Americans. It was fitting that Mitchell would cite the Times story, because it, too, has been debunked as dishonest journalism designed to support the narrative that Republicans are out of touch.

After her snarky introduction, Mitchell ran the edited clip of Romney’s remarks. Romney described his experience ordering a sandwich in a Wawa: “You press the little touchtone keypad, you just touch that, and the sandwich comes in, touch this, touch this, touch this, go pay the cashier, there’s your sandwich. It’s amazing!”

Cut to Mitchell smiling with her mouth agape, as if to say: “Can you believe this guy?”

“It’s amazing,” Mitchell repeated mockingly as she shook her head. Cillizza broke into laughter.

It appears that Mitchell hasn’t been in many convenience stores herself. As Erik Wemple of The Washington Post pointed out, sandwich kiosks of the type that Romney was supposedly marveling at are actually a rarity found in only one percent of America’s convenience stores. Mitchell’s attempt to portray Romney as being out of touch thus only served to demonstrate how out of touch Mitchell is. But the larger point was that Mitchell had taken Romney completely out of context. Romney wasn’t marveling at the existence of sandwich kiosks. He was marveling at how the private sector’s ability to improve our lives through innovation stands in such marked contrast to the sclerotic public sector. This context is clear from a clip of Romney’s remarks without the agenda-driven editing, uncovered by blogger Sooper Mexican.

With their snark-fest thus exposed as a disingenuous piece of bias, Mitchell returned with Cillizza the next day to make amends. Except not really.

“Hey Chris, there’s been a lot of discussion overnight about a conversation you and I had yesterday,” said Mitchell. “We ran clips of Mitt Romney in Cornwall, Pennsylvania, talking about his trip to a Wawa. Well the RNC and the campaign both reached out to us, saying that Romney had more to say about that visit, about federal bureaucracy and innovation in the private sector. We didn’t get a chance to play that, so here it is now.” Mitchell then ran a clip that had been re-edited from the day before to include a few seconds of additional context.

That introduction by Mitchell was as disingenuous as her introduction the day before, and her avoidance of accountability was as infuriating as her original transgression. So both the RNC and the Romney campaign had “reached out” to MSNBC. Why? Because Mitchell had grotesquely twisted Romney’s words just so she could make fun of him? Nah, it was simply because Romney had “more to say” about his visit to the Wawa. Apparently, the Romney campaign’s disappointment was that MSNBC hadn’t reported every single thing that Romney had to say about his stop at the Wawa.

In Mitchell’s sorry excuse for an excuse, she “didn’t get a chance to play” some of Romney’s additional reflections on his trip to the Wawa. Of course she didn’t. She was too busy ridiculing Romney for a “gaffe” that was completely her own fabrication.

And did I miss something in Mitchell’s Day Two introduction? Like an apology? Or even an acknowledgement that her report the day before had been misleading? That the overnight chatter she referred to was not merely “discussion,” as she put it, but near unanimous criticism of her biased reporting? C’mon, Andrea, even John Edwards (eventually) fessed up after he was busted.

Mitchell is symptomatic of a problem in American journalism. Liberals outnumber conservatives in journalism by about four to one, despite being outnumbered in the country as whole by about two to one. If any race, ethnic group or gender were as severely under-represented in the newsroom as are conservatives, folks like Andrea Mitchell would be screaming for more diversity. But while most in the liberal media value diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual preference, they seem downright hostile to diversity of thought. This attitude is demonstrated by their obsessive fixation on Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. It’s not enough for them that their point of view merely dominates the media. They seem genuinely offended that other perspectives are even allowed to exist alongside theirs.

But perhaps I’m being too hard on Mitchell. Perhaps she was merely doing what some on the left are wont to do: rearranging the “smaller truth” — i.e., the facts — in the service of the “larger truth” as they define it. In this case, the “larger truth” is that Mitt Romney is indeed out of touch. What type of presidential candidate, after all, would spend all of his time partying with fabulous celebrities like Anna Wintour and say things like “the private sector is doing fine”? Oh wait a minute, that was the other guy.

David B. Cohen served in the administration of President George W. Bush as U.S. Representative to the Pacific Community, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior, and as a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. He is the author of Left-Hearted, Right-Minded: Why Conservative Policies Are The Best Way To Achieve Liberal Ideals.