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August 2012

Florida media goes to extremes at Republican National Convention

PenheadThis first appeared today in Columbia Journalism Review

By Brian E. Crowley

TAMPA — On Wednesday, the morning after the first night of the Republican National Convention, the front page of the Fort Lauderdale-based Sun Sentinel—the paper with the fourth-largest daily circulation in Florida—had not a single story about the GOP gathering. Not even a tease to inside coverage. There was nothing on the front about Ann Romney’s speech. There was nothing about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s speech, or that of any other speaker. The lede story was about problems with school bus drivers. A top-of-the-fold feature package was about a 17-year-old girl who is a high school quarterback.

Things were very different in Tampa, 264 miles to the northwest, where the GOP has gathered this week. Here, the Tampa Bay Times and Politico teamed together to publish a four-section package of more 50 stories and dozens of graphics, photos, and sidebar tidbits. It spread over 32 pages. Eight of those pages were taken up by a paid political advertisement for the American Clean Skies Foundation (the organization promotes the production of natural gas in shale rock); the remaining 24 were largely filled with convention coverage.

Stories ranged from speech coverage to an interesting analysis of the Republican Party that Mitt Romney is about to lead. There were articles about the Florida delegation bus being delayed for hours, problems with traffic, celebrity sightings, and even how the convention has had little impact on kids going to school. To say that there was no stone left unturned is to put it mildly.

Continue reading "Florida media goes to extremes at Republican National Convention" »

RNC, the War Room, Jon Voight and more

Jon voight 2

This first appeared today in Columbia Journalism Review

By Brian E. Crowley

TAMPA — In a large room, just off the main floor of the Tampa Convention Center, there are about 100 men and women sitting quietly at computers looking very much like employees of the major news organizations covering the 2012 Republican National Convention.

They are not. This is the media war room of the Republican National Committee and the Mitt Romney campaign. Many of the folks inside are volunteers who are assigned to monitor and “assist” various media organizations. They write news releases, do research, keep track of story trends, and reach out to reporters either to inform or push back, depending on the circumstances.

Each network and major cable outlet has been assigned its own RNC war roomer. There are folks responsible for regional news organizations. Others are there to monitor major print organizations. This is also where much of the rapid response operation—for example, a quick reaction (emailed press release) to an attack by the Obama campaign—takes place.

On this morning, the delayed opening day of the convention, everyone appears busy but not frantic. I take the time to chat with a couple of folks including GOP operatives Mark Pfeifle and Kristy Campbell.

As the media continues its march to the convention center (where many of them file) and the Tampa Bay Times Forum (where the convention action is, about a third of a mile from the convention center), it is not likely to stay quiet in this room much longer. And while reporters like to think no one puts words in their mouths, the fact is that much of the rhetoric that will come out of this convention will be crafted in—and sent forth from—the war room.

* * *

Wandering over toward the Politico work station in the media filing center (across the hall from the war room), I am amused watching a photographer approached by one of Politico’s PR folks. The photographer wants to get a shot of Politico’s convention operation but the PR woman is a bit cautious, asking what kind of story he is doing. He gets his picture, but she would still like to hear back about the story. The photographer smiles, says thank you, and moves on.

* * *

In the main convention center hallway, a clutch of reporters is gathered around actor Jon Voight. While Voight has made some great movies—Midnight CowboyDeliverance,Mission: Impossible—when he is just playing himself he sounds mostly like an aging crank who fears the government is on the verge of collapse. With a slow start to the convention, he is one of hate the mainstream media gaggle who wanders the hall hoping to be interviewed. It is not clear why reporters continue to oblige him—but, they do.

* * *

Hurricane Isaac continues to have an impact on convention coverage with CNN and Fox News having relocated big news names (Anderson Cooper and Shep Smith, respectively) from Tampa to New Orleans. Parts of South Florida had serious flooding and some Florida television crews stayed home to cover the damage.

Still, there are thousands of credentialed journalists here. More than enough to keep the media war room—and Jon Voight—quite busy.

RNC and bad hair, Iran, Isaac and urinal ads

Overheard in the lobby of the downtown Tampa Hyatt where the Wisconsin delegation is staying for the Republican National Convention:

A woman, her hair a mess - "Now I believe there is a Republican war on women. Look what this place does to my hair."

There may not have been much conventioneering because of Hurricane Isaac but as conventions always do, there were some choice moments. 

A few tidbits and observations:

To say the police presence here is noticeable is to put it mildly. Tampa has turned into an armed camp. This Tweet sums it up:

@Mrsralphreed: When I lived in Iran under martial was not as bad as it is at the @GOPconvention!!!

Poor Mitt Romney. Not only does the Republican nominee have to share coverage with Hurricane Isaac but he also has been forced to give up air time to breaking news that Snooki had a baby.

Apparently some journalists think talking about Romney being a Mormon is a sensitive topic. CNN was exploring the issue with these words on the screen -The "M" word. 

The "M" word? Really?

Meanwhile, the National Federation of Pachyderm Clubs is setting up shop at the convention. We don't think it is a "Save the Elephants" conservation society.

Young TV reporter, "I'm looking for a delegate to interview are you a delegate?" Sorry. No.

Remember this time four years ago when Sarah Palin was the big star of the convention?

Tampa television station on-air message to convention delegates:

"We are the lightning capitol of the world"

"Humidity is not your friend"

"Don’t feed the seagulls"

Gingrich just walked by with his mini entourage....and with the look of a man who desperately wants to be important again.

From National Journal: “The split screen is a killer,” said Ari Fleischer (a reference to convention and hurricane coverage on sames days).

One steps inside the men's room of a very nice hotel and finds an elegant looking, postcard size, invitation featuring all the symbolism of the convention. The invite is to a downtown Tampa bar. Each urinal has an invite carefully placed on each urinal.

Take one with you?


Charlie Crist the ambassador to Greece

One thing former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist has always had a knack for is wheedling his way into the spotlight. The former Republican turned independent and soon-to-be Democrat, has more than ticked off a few folks at the Republican National Convention with his endorsement Sunday of President Obama.

Today, he announced that he will be speaking at that Democratic National Convention. This, needless to say, is not lowering the temperature of those Republicans who simply loathe Crist. One thing is certain - Crist could care less.

There is a great deal of speculation that Crist is positioning himself to run for govenor against incumbent Republican Rick Scott in 2014. It would be a fascinating contest. And when you look around the Florida Democratic Party, one is hardpressed to find an alternative.

On the other hand, perhaps Crist simply wants a second-term Obama to name him ambassador to Greece.

When it comes to Charlie Crist, nothing should suprise you.

Republican National Convention and a wince

The story below appears in Columbia Journalism Review

By Brian E. Crowley

TAMPA — Wince. That was my first reaction as I started to read a Sunday storyabout the Republican National Convention by Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam Smith and Politico national political editor Charles Mahtesian.

It began as if written by a copy writer for the marketing department of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Welcome to Florida, Republican conventioneers.

Let’s not mince words: You are in the most important state in America.

You already know this is America’s biggest battleground and that if Mitt Romney loses our 29 electoral votes Barack Obama is almost certainly re-elected. But with Florida it’s more than that.

This is a mega state so diverse that it mirrors the nation’s moods, sentiments and demographics. Florida is America—today’s America and tomorrow’s.

“It’s become a nation-state, just as New York and California were at their peak and Ohio was a century ago,” said historian Richard Norton Smith, a venerable chronicler of American politics.


Frankly, if I did not already know that Smith is one of Florida’s best political writers I might have stopped there. Fortunately, while the over-the-top prose continued to pop up occasionally, Smith and Mahtesian quickly redeem themselves with a well-written and informative piece that outshines most of the competition.

Continue reading "Republican National Convention and a wince" »

Charlie Crist endorses Barack Obama, rips GOP

Crist cartoon
Tropical Storm Crist came squalling into Tampa Bay Sunday with a column in the Tampa Bay Times endorsing Barack Obama for president and questioning the "extreme right" of the Republican Party.

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist left the GOP two years ago in an ill-fated effort to win the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Marco Rubio. Crist, who at the time was considered a moderate Republican (depsite his nickname Chain Gang Charlie), is now loathed by the GOP establishment.

There is wide speculation that Crist will try to make a comeback by running for governor as a Democrat in 2014. It would be an amazing trick if Crist can pull it off. Others believe that Crist has no intention of getting back into politics and is simply enjoying an opporturnity to taunt his tormentors.

Crist's endorsement comes as the Republican Natonal Convention delegates await the arrival of Hurricane Isaac in the Tampa Bay area. The convention organizers pulled the plug on Monday's opening events because of the storm. 

In his column, Crist writes:

As Republicans gather in Tampa to nominate Mitt Romney, Americans can expect to hear tales of how President Obama has failed to work with their party or turn the economy around.

But an element of their party has pitched so far to the extreme right on issues important to women, immigrants, seniors and students that they've proven incapable of governing for the people. Look no further than the inclusion of the Akin amendment in the Republican Party platform, which bans abortion, even for rape victims.

The truth is that the party has failed to demonstrate the kind of leadership or seriousness voters deserve.

Read the entire Tampa Bay Times column here.


Miami Herald's Caputo gets Romney campaign all worked up

This story was first published by Columbia Journalism Review.

By Brian E. Crowley

Tucked somewhere into the recesses of the hidden place where only those with knowledge of the secret handshake can go, are the many files accumulated during the vetting process of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan.

The presidential campaign of Mitt Romney certainly pored over votes Ryan cast during 14 years in Congress as they were preparing to select Romney’s running mate. So one can only wonder if this little tidbit, picked up by The Miami Herald’s Marc Caputo, was noticed by the campaign’s inquisitors—Ryan voted at least twice in opposition to our country’s embargo with Cuba.

While nearly all of the nation’s media focused, as they should have, on Ryan’s views on overhauling the federal budget and Medicare, Caputo took the time to peek into an issue that is at the forefront of political interests of South Florida’s Cuban-Americans. When he did, it exploded.

Caputo acknowledges that he looked into Ryan’s positions on the Cuban embargo at the suggestion of sources. At 4:39 p.m. on Saturday, less than eight hours after Romney stood on the U.S.S. Wisconsin in Virginia to announce that Ryan was joining the Republican ticket, Caputo posted a 410-word entry on the Herald’s “Naked Politics” blog that opened with:

Continue reading "Miami Herald's Caputo gets Romney campaign all worked up" »

Throwing punches at Allen West

American Sunrise is behind a new ad throwing verbal punches at a boxing-glove clad Allen West. In what is becoming an increasingly common tactic, the Republican congressman is being attacked by supporters of Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy - even though West has yet to win his party's nomination.

Clearly the Murphy folks believe West is going to defeat Martin County Sheriff Robert Crowder in the GOP primary. The District 18 race is one of Florida's hottest contests and Murphy, a political newcomer, has a reasonable chance of defeating West if he becomes the nominee.

Speaking of Murphy folks, it turns out that the biggest contributor to American Sunrise PAC is Murphy's dad, Tom Murphy Jr., owner of a Miami-based construction company. Pop dropped $250,000 on his kid. Who says times are tough?

National Republican Campaign Committee spokesman Nat Sillin has this take on Murphy PAC. 

“Looks like daddy is coming to the rescue of silver spoon Patrick Erin Murphy.  Murphy may think that South Florida is his own personal playground but hard working Floridians don’t want a representative in Congress who calls a decorated war veteran a coward, verbally abuses law enforcement officers, and has daddy bankroll TV ads supporting his campaign.” 

America's next Bush?

The Bush family political dynasty would appear to some to be on hold but the Prince-in-Waiting, isn't going to be on the sidelines much longer.

George P. Bush, son of Jeb, appears to be raising his profile and moving closer to the day when he will begin his political career. He has popped up in a number of interviews over the past few months and has made it clear that "public service" is an important part of his vision for himself.

His latest interview is with ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl (see it below).

You can expect to see Bush at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. While Bush is likely to begin his political career in Texas, don't count out Jeb Bush Jr. who may follow his father's footsteps by launching his political career in Florida.


New Romney ad suggests Obama not a fan of Israel

In a new ad targeted to Jewish voters - a key group for President Obama in South Florida - Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney attempts to leave the impression that Obama is not a fan of Israel.

Romney points out that Obama has not visited Israel since becoming president - but that has been common practice among both Republican and Democratic presidents. And Romney again offers his strong support for the idea that Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel

The Obama administration has followed the practice of previous administrations by being more nuanced about the future of Jerusalem

Is the ad a cheap shot? Perhaps, but both campaigns have been guilty of cheap shots. Will it have an impact on Jewish voters? Obviously the Romney camp thinks it will.


Florida Senate candidate visits Chick-fil-A and worries we are becoming Canada

Former Florida Congressman David Weldon dropped by a Chick-fil-A this week to show his support for the fast-food chain.

"I personally believe that marriage is an institution ordained by God and spoken of in the Bible as being created by him, and being between a man and a woman," says Weldon in a video taped by his campaign.

Weldon is in a tough race against Congressman Connie Mack IV for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate. Weldon's campaign has been geared toward outmanuvering Mack with an appeal to hardcore conservative voters.

"I am opposed to gay marriage," say Weldon.

He also concludes that "religious liberties" are being infringed upon and says that "there are certain verses" of the Bible dealing with homosexuality "that are not allowed to be read in Canada...and that is the direction we are going in as a nation."

Oh no! We could become Canada?

Bill Nelson slams Connie Mack in new campaign ad

Not too long along most folks in Florida who pay attention to such thing looked at the weak GOP field in the U.S. Senate race and concluded that this would be a cakewalk for incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson.

Not anymore. Most of the GOP established has annointed Congressman Connie Mack IV as their favorite son and Super PACS are pouring big dollars into the race slamming shut the money lead that Nelson once held.

This week Nelson, who has spent most of his adult life in elected office, began airing an ad introducing himself to Florida voters. Now just a couple days later, Nelson has launched his first negative ad against Mack.

Keep in mind, Mack does have a primary opponent - former Florida Congressman David Weldon who seems to be picking up momentum with hardcore conservatives. Nelson's ad could dig into the overwhelming lead that Mack appears to have over Weldon.

Some Democrats have told Crowley Political Report that Nelson has been too slow to react to weeks of negative ads attacking him. Polls suggest they may be right. Apparently Nelson's campaign team has gotten the message.

One thing seems clear - Republicans think they have a shot at winning this seat.



And here is Nelson's bio ad:


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A unique view of Mitt Romney's trip overseas and there's a cat

By far one of the best photographers in the news business, New York Times photographer Stephen Crowley has been chronicling the 2012 presidential campaign in his own unique style. 

You can understand why Crowley Political Report is so proud of his work.

Stephen traveled with Romney on the Republican presidential candidate's trip to Great Britain, Israel and Poland. You won't find pictures like these anywhere else - including the one with the cat.