Mad Mitt

1200668830If you haven’t seen the Mitt Romney video yet, treat yourself. It’s a spectacular meltdown, one that has everyone talking. Still, it’s not entirely clear who came off looking worse — Romney or AP reporter Glen Johnson.

Yesterday, during a few quick comments on the campaign trail in South Carolina, Romney and Johnson got tangled up in a tense, awkward spat about whether or not Romney has lobbyists running his campaign. It was like bad grade-school slap fight — the children clumsily flailing at each other while a crowd gathered to gawk stupidly.

As with all good fights, sides must be taken. After the jump, choose yours. It began with another of Romney’s talking points. He was once more belaboring the idea that he’s a businessman, and an outsider, and therefore the perfect guy to set those evil Washington fat cats back to a life of righteousness.

“I don’t have lobbyists running my campaign,” Romney said. “I don’t have lobbyists tied to my…”

Just then, Johnson cut him off. Maybe it was the result of hearing too many of Romney’s platitudes. Maybe he was struck with the sudden urge to do what too few journos have the balls for — call bullshit when you see it, regardless of whether you’ll be branded a rogue reporter, or even unprofessional. Or maybe Johnson was just having a bad day — terrible lunches on the trail, from what I hear. Whatever the reason, Johnson immediately laid into Romney.

“That’s not true, governor,” Johnson said. “That’s not true. Ron Kaufman is a lobbyist. How can you say you don’t have lobbyists working for you?

“Did you hear what I said?” Romney shot back. “Did you hear what I said, Glen? I said I don’t have lobbyists running my campaign [emphasis added], and I don’t have lobbyists running my campaign.”

“But he’s an advisor,” Johnson said.

“He’s an advisor,” Romney allowed. “But the person running my campaign is Beth Myers. And I have a whole staff of deputy campaign managers.”

After some more bickering about what a senior advisor is or isn’t, Romney returned to saying that Washington is full of drunks and puppy kickers and the town should be razed (OK, he said some more stuff about not having lobbyists on his campaign.) Then he was whisked away by communications director Eric Fehrnstrom.

That wasn’t the end of it, though. Romney approached Johnson after the event to reinforce the point that he didn’t have lobbyists working for him. Johnson wasn’t buying it. (And neither are a lot of others, incidentally.) Which made Romney even more pissed.

“Listen to my words, Glen,” Romney said. “Listen to my words.”

“That’s semantics,” Johnson said. “Running your campaign and giving you advice? Come on.”

After that exchange, Mitt smiled and walked away, while Fehrnstrom called Johnson unprofessional and told him to keep his opinions to himself. Then someone in the crowd called Johnson rude and ugly. Which was funny, and a bit ironic considering the source.

Johnson did look a bit snivelly at points, but it should be noted that he didn’t seek Romney out the second time. Nor the third when, on the press plane as the campaign headed from South Carolina to Nevada, Romney invited the reporter up to his cabin to continue the discussion.

Doubtless, plenty of people will hold Johnson responsible for continuously challenging Mitt. How unbecoming of a reporter. How audacious. How dare he? Most people, Romney and Fehrnstrom included, seem to think that reporters are really stenographers, charged with the task of dutifully copying down everything the candidate says, even if it isn’t true.

Those same people have forgotten that part of the media’s job is to challenge things that don’t pass the smell test. At least it used to be back when Edward R. Murrow did this kind of shit regularly.

Not that Johnson is in that club. He simply knows that Kaufman is a lobbyist, and that he’s a senior advisor, which may not be running the campaign, but it’s damn important. Kaufman is certainly someone who “has the ear of the candidate.”

No, Johnson isn’t Murrow. He’s just a guy who heard Romney obfuscate one too many times, a guy who watched Romney continually wiggle free of the truth while tying everyone else up in his verbal knots. And so Johnson decided he’d had enough of that.

That’s what I saw, anyway. Romney will probably disagree. Which isn’t all that surprising. After all, he has a problem with that word — saw.