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Santorum’s outburst undermines campaign efforts

Published: Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, March 28, 2012 00:03

Though presidential hopeful Rick Santorum may view his latest bout with the media as an opportunity to take a stand against biased coverage, he should have kept his foot out of his mouth for the sake of his campaign.

The conservative let loose an expletive-laced outburst after a Sunday rally in Wisconsin, accusing New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny of twisting his words to fit with the paper’s liberal bias. After Santorum told audiences that, when it comes to health care issues, “(Romney) is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama,” Zeleny asked him a follow-up question.

“You said Mitt Romney is the worst Republican in the country. Is that true?” Zeleny asked, according to the Times. Santorum snapped.

“Quit distorting my words,” Santorum replied, according to the Times. “If I see it, it’s b-------. Come on, man. What are you doing?”

Santorum attempted to spin the incident by using it as a fundraiser, asking supporters to donate $30, roughly the cost of a subscription to the Time’s website, to his campaign. However, even though Santorum has promised supporters that he’s “ready to take on the New York Times,” the outburst proves that he’s not ready to take on the White House.

In the short run, Santorum may gain the support of Republicans who have long perceived a liberal bias in the media. However, to be a successful leader, he should seek to unite views instead of pit them against each other.

A 2002 study by Dartmouth College found that 116 mainstream U.S. papers, including the Times, illustrated a liberal bias, and in 2007, a study by the Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy found that viewers believe television news networks, such as CNN, have a liberal bias. However, Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corporation, self-identifies as a libertarian and conservative views are prominent in his Fox News.

While all reporters should be expected and relied upon to present an unbiased presentation of facts, studies such as these and Santorum’s insistence that papers such as the Times, which has the third-highest circulation in the U.S. at more than 950,000, cannot be trusted can jeopardize the future of free information in the U.S. As a potential president, Santorum should make himself available to the audiences reached by the Times and others instead of villainizing them.

Zeleny’s question was worded poorly, but that is no excuse for a nation’s potential leader to lose his cool so unapologetically. One has to wonder how Santorum would perform under the pressures of the presidency if one question could cause such a flurry of emotion.

Santorum’s comments are an example of how those in the public eye need to watch what they say. While it is important that the media get their facts straight, it is also crucial for a presidential candidate to keep positive relations with the media. Had Santorum handled the situation in a mature manner, he would have been applauded. Now, the incident only reflects negatively on him.

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