This morning the Associated Press ran a story which has had good distribution. A columnist at the Boston Globe, the paper that ran the story that was the source of the whole brouhaha, commented on the matter. Another columnist, working for the Globe's competitor, The Boston Herald, also took a shot at the story. British papers have started working on the story. Considering how vocal British animal rights groups are, I expect this story to generate an equal amount of opinion on both sides of the Atlantic.
Animal stories really get to people. Any reporter will tell you, that if they run a story on a house fire that orphaned three kids, they will get dozens of offers of money and clothes for the kids. But if they run a story on a house fire that orphaned three kittens, they will get thousands of calls from people who want to adopt the kittens.
Editors also love animal stories because it allows them to be clever with the headlines. So far, I've seen "Romney in the Doghouse" and "Animal Cruelty Charges Dog Romney Campaign." I haven't yet seen anyone refer to this weekend as Romney's dog days, but I'm sure that one is just a matter of time. Feel free to use the comments to share the best headlines or lame TV anchor banter that you run into.
Both the Romney campaign and The Herald are framing the story as one of Romney versus the extremist animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). This is a formula that should play well with some conservatives, but the outrage at mistreating animals has so far not been limited to the left, so Romney has to do more than just cry persecution by the usual suspects if he wants to make this go away.
It's important to notice that the criticism did not originate with PETA. It originated at Time magazine where Anna Marie Cox noticed how oddly this story was portrayed in the Thursday installment of The Globe's profile. She blogged about it twice and then wrote a more finished article for the online version of the magazine. She called PETA for comment in her second blog post and then repeated their comment in her article. This was the PETA passage.
Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, was less circumspect. PETA does not have a position on Romney's candidacy per se, but Newkirk called the incident "a lesson in cruelty that was ... wrong for [his children] to witness...Thinking of the wind, the weather, the speed, the vulnerability, the isolation on the roof, it is commonsense that any dog who's under extreme stress might show that stress by losing control of his bowels: that alone should have been sufficient indication that the dog was, basically, being tortured."
Bloggers were already piling on Romney after Cox's first post and before the PETA angle was ever mentioned. I guess we bloggers still have a ways to go as boogie men (and women) if the right would rather go after PETA than us even though we were there first. Our feelings may be hurt, but I'm sure we'll come out stronger for the experience.
The Herald got an appropriately snide comment from the Romney campaign:
When asked to comment on the rabid outrage, Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said via e-mail: “It looks like PETA has found something new to complain about other than boiled lobster. This is silliness from the liberal fringe.”
When MSNBC managed to get hold of Romney on the road, he rather unsubtly played the persecution card:
"You know, PETA has not been my fan over the years," Romney said. "PETA has been after me for having a rodeo at the Olympics and were very, very upset about that. PETA was after me when I went quail hunting in Georgia. And PETA is not happy that my dog likes fresh air."
It's a good thing the dog didn't like fresh water; Romney might have drowned him.
He also tried a variation of the bully's standard, "but we was just having fun."
Romney dismissed any outcry about the 24-year-old incident, saying the dog enjoyed his rooftop perch.
"He scrambled up there every time we went on trips," Romney said at a campaign stop in Pittsburgh Thursday. "He got it all by himself and enjoyed it."
In trying to shift the story away from him and his dog and over to PETA and him, Romney is is using some pretty old tactics. It is, of course, misdirection and changing the subject. What's interesting is the particular subject he chose to change it to. He could have gone after Cox and Time and focused his whine on that old favorite the liberal press, but that still would have left the issue open. The party line on the press is that they are unfair to conservatives. By using that line he would have left himself open to people talking more about the story to decide if the criticism is unfair. The party line on PETA is that they are just crazy and therefore anything they say is crazy. No discussion is necessary. He's counting on a tribal reaction from conservatives, that they will have a knee-jerk response and unthinkingly oppose anything PETA says.
This plan might work with the most ideological members of the far right. It might also work on the type of rural rednecks who see the Confederate flag and dog fighting as a part of their culture that is under assault by liberal elites. Romney's support among these groups has been weak. They see him as a northern, urban moderate. However, it probably will not work with the suburban moderates, the much desired soccer moms. The people he is most set to lose over this issue are the ones who have so far been his best support.
All in all, I think Romney is set to lose big over this issue. His best hope is to make it go away and hope that most of his suburban supporters have already checked their minds out for the Fourth of July weekend. If the story dies over the next few days, he might recover. If the story is still alive in a week, his campaign might be finished. I wonder where we could find a bunch of media savvy obsessives to keep the story alive?