On Saturday, the NPR-distributed show On The Media recycled “The Story That Continues to Dog Romney" – a 1983 anecdote where Mitt Romney strapped his Irish setter Seamus to the top of his car in a carrier on a trip to Canada. Somehow, On The Media host Bob Garfield found it wry to compare Romney to Michael Vick, the NFL quarterback who pled guilty to hanging or drowning six to eight dogs.
“So back in 2007, you surely knew that this story would not be taken only at face value, that it would mutate" Garfield told Boston Globe reporter Neil Swidey, the original sleuth of “Seamusgate,” “and it would be used as ammunition by those who would portray Mitt Romney as the Michael Vick of presidential candidates. It still wound up as your lede. You feel any compunction about that at this stage?”
The better question is why Garfield doesn’t have any compunction comparing Romney’s unfortunate car trip with a murderous dog-fighting ring.
Swidey replied: “The only compunction I feel is maybe I have a heightened awareness now of the extent to which people would focus on that to the exclusion of everything else, including all nuance in it. I mean, in this piece I wrote just this last week, I mentioned some of the mythology and factual errors that have been reported and then re-reported by the media.”
Garfield noted some aggression in mentioning this story from the media elites: “New York Times columnist Gail Collins has referenced Seamus 30 times.”
He presented himself as nonpartisan: “In this world, where partisans are free to cut and paste as they wish, no matter how irresponsibly and cynically, do reporters have to take responsibility and fashion their stories in a way to be least useful for the forces of naked partisanship?”
Again, Garfield rebukes others for irresponsible narratives in the same segment as a Romney-Vick comparison. It's amazing that this show, which airs on more than 300 NPR stations out of WNYC in New York, congratulates itself on its website: While maintaining the civility and fairness that are the hallmarks of public radio, OTM tackles sticky issues with a frankness and transparency that has built trust with listeners and led to more than a tripling of its audience in five years."
Swidey told Garfield that making doggie stories like these “impenetrable” for partisans would probably make it so for readers in general. He seemed at least a little abashed about how serious this scoop is: “One of Romney’s problems is he does present this sort of airbrushed quality, not that you need to know pet anecdotes from 30 years ago, necessarily, but you need insight.”
In his new article for the Globe (which prompted the new NPR story), Swidey wrote:
Although I think it would be nuts for voters to base their presidential selection solely on this incident, it’s always struck me as a valuable window into how Romney operates. In everything the guy does, he functions on logic, not emotion...
The Seamus story, [Bill Wasik] now admits, hung on longer than he expected, though lately the context has been more media than politics. Wasik, an editor at Wired magazine, predicts the Seamus citations will become more political and more plentiful if Romney becomes the GOP nominee, as President Obama partisans use it to paint Romney as a cruel character who, as Wasik puts it, will “sort of tie us all to the roof of the car.”