By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Bernstein bites back

Defenders of Mitt Romney are very excited about a story by the Politico’s Mike Allen reporting that two women actually saw the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Michigan Gov. George Romney marching together in Grosse Pointe in 1963. As well they should be. “I remember it vividly,” says one alleged eyewitness. “I was only 15 or 20 feet from where both of them were.”

But memories play tricks. And David Bernstein of the Boston Phoenix, who broke this story on Wednesday, says contemporaneous news coverage makes it clear that while Romney was marching on behalf of King’s agenda in Grosse Pointe, King himself was hundreds of miles away, speaking at an AFL-CIO gathering at Rutgers University.

Bernstein is withering in his contempt for the Romney campaign’s dumping this stuff on the Politico, writing, “Those facts are indisputable, and quite frankly, the campaign must have known the women’s story would eventually be debunked — few people’s every daily movement has been as closely tracked and documented as King’s.”

This is not a small mistake for the Mittster. As Bernstein noted in his original story, Mitt Romney had claimed not just that his father and King had marched together, but that he had personally observed it. And in a devastating piece in the Boston Globe on Friday, Michael Levenson noted that Mitt had on at least one occasion gone quite a bit further, telling the Boston Herald in 1978, “My father and I marched with Martin Luther King Jr. through the streets of Detroit.”

Nor is Washington Post columnist David Broder likely to say anything helpful to Romney. Broder co-authored a George Romney biography in the ’60s in which he reported the claim that the elder Romney and King had marched together. But here’s what the Post had to say earlier today:

The Romney campaign initially cited a 1967 book co-authored by Washington Post staff writer David S. Broder, which stated that Romney “marched with Martin Luther King through the exclusive Grosse Pointe suburb of Detroit.” But the book did not provide a source for the event, and Broder told The Post that he cannot remember where he heard the information.

What an astonishing muddle the Republican presidential campaign is now in.

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  1. Steve

    Via Eric Kleefield of Talking Points Memo we get a reference to a release at the Romney site:”In 1963, George Romney Gave The Keynote Address At The Conference That Sparked The Martin Luther King “Freedom Marches” In Detroit.”Doesn’t that sound a lot like Gore’s statement that he “took the initiative in creating the Internet”? The statement that got twisted into the lie that Gore claimed to have invented the internet? Do you think that Romney’s statement will be trumpeted with anywhere near the volume the lie about Gore’s statement was?What Liberal Media?

  2. Anonymous

    I know it’s two generations ago but didn’t anybody take photo’s in 1963? Not one person has the Governor’s picture marching with one of the most famous men of the 20th century? This story has more than a few red flags, and it’s up to Romney to offer proof it happened, not just a few sentences from seniors who think his dad was handsome.

  3. Anonymous

    It’s Republican Swift Boat Reality. The important thing is to get the lie out there. By the time the witnesses are debunked, the waters will have been muddied and that’s all that matters.

  4. bostonph

    BTW, Bernstien’s comments section is filled with hate mail from putative angry citizens. Interestingly, they all seem to be using the same talking points: 1. The Dems are smearing George, a great civil rights activist.2. Where were the Dems when Clinton lied in his speech at Rosa Park’s funeral?3. Will the Mormon hating liberal media stop at nothing?4. (My personal favorite). Bernstein is just playing semantic games. Marching FOR MLK is the same as marching WITH MLK. Example quote: He was cleary marching in support of MLK so to say he was “marching with him” is completely accurate unless of course you try to twist it to mean literally.

  5. Amusedbutinformedobserver

    Thoughts while last-minute wrapping:I’m no fan of Willard. But the King march flap may be overblown, depending in part as it does on the memory of a long-dead governor.What is meant by “marched with?” Can a remark by George Romney about marching “with” King be taken in the context of being “with” King by marching in support of his ideals, but then have been taken literally in the re-telling leading to Romney family assumptions and presumptions of being in King’s presence, rather than “with” him in the sociopolitical context? Clearly and admittedly the campaign’s digging up old ladies and their memories of events of 45-odd years ago would seem to reinforce the idea that the candidate made it up. Still, George Romney was somewhat progressive, and really was treated unfairly after the brainwashing remark (Tip O’Neil later said basically the same thing and became a hero for it) and I’d identify him more with Rockefeller and Scranton than with the GOP right wing, so there’s credibility to Romney taking his kid and marching “with” King in the sense of marching “for” the ideals that King came to personify. George Romney, too, refused to waffle and flip-flop on the brainwashing line which suggests just how far from the tree the apple has fallen.

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