Just read Walter Shapiro’s piece, “Let Santorum be Santorum! Why honesty beats robotic-message discipline: Character Sketch” (http://tinyurl.com/Shapiro-Santorum)
In it, Shapiro argues that presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s penchant for honesty, departing from scripted remarks, is so disliked by the “campaign press corps” that they’ve branded him a loser.
“What the press corps respects is the professionalism of a presidential candidate who hides his personal views behind the veneer of poll-tested banalities. If a would-be president provides a candid glimpse of the values that would animate him in the Oval Office, the news media brands the candidate as a loser for his unseemly breach of message discipline.”
Really? It was the sheer act of going off-message that made Santorum look and sound like a Looney tune character come to life, not the content of his off-message remarks?
Santorum’s pronouncements about wanting to throw up after reading John F. Kennedy’s famous speech on separation of church and state, and his labeling Obama a “snob” because he wants young people to seek some form of higher education were appalling, and downright strange, to most people because of what they revealed about his character, not because they were delivered extemporaneously.
What a strange conclusion Shapiro draws from the reaction to Santorum’s remarks: The press likes robotic candidates, he claims, not those that reveal their character in unscripted remarks.
I don’t buy it, not at all.
Shapiro is correct that going off-message troubles some folks — but it’s not reporters that tremble when candidates go off-script, it’s campaign managers who start sweating bullets. Scripted candidates play the campaign game better than those that wander off. Good candidate, the campaign manager thinks, like patting a dog on the head. Campaign managers know going off script is dangerous, each off-message remark represents a potential gaffe of sizeable proportions.
Journalists tend to love unscripted remarks. They’ve heard the same core remarks and talking points again and again. When a candidate goes off-script, it’s new and, yes, opens the door to a potential gaffe not vetted by focus groups or polls. Every journalist I know loves an “unseemly breach of message discipline.” It’s like being given a bonus round, at no charge.
If Santorum earned the “loser” branding, it was for the content of his remarks, not their spontaneity.