On 'Mr. Mean' and 'Fauxcahontas'

By Sarah Birnbaum

May 11, 2012


Mitt Romney on the campaign trail in New Hampshire. (Jim Cole/AP)

BOSTON — Two different stories hit the news during the week of May 7 about prominent Massachusetts politicians and not-so-flattering incidents from their pasts. They might factor in voter choices. 
This week, news surfaced that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney allegedly bullied a non-conformist student at his elite high school. And Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren is accused of misrepresenting herself as Native American to boost her professional credentials.
Should voters care?

Focus on the issues
Boston University communication professor Tobe Berkovitz said ideally, candidates shouldn't be disqualified for something they may or may not have done 30 or 40 years ago:
“What we should care about are candidates stands on the issues, especially the really important ones of the day — economy, jobs. But we get down in the weeds on all these personality stories,” he said.
Sometimes, stories of past misdeeds don’t make much of an impact and some candidates seem to have nine lives. After all, President George W. Bush got his license suspended for drunk driving and never explicitly denied rumors of cocaine use, while President Barack Obama has acknowledged in print youthful cocaine and marijuana use.

A question of disconnect
But voters pay attention, Berkovitz said, when there’s a contradiction between the stories and the image the candidates are trying to project.
“Elizabeth Warren presented herself as a great liberal hope, and then when all of a sudden things show up that might have been dissonant with that image then it causes a lot of trouble," he said. "Mitt Romney presents himself as Mr. Clean, and then if you find out that perhaps he was Mr. Mean, then all of a sudden people think 'Oh, there’s a disconnect between how the candidates are presenting his or herself, and how I’m perceiving them.'”
It’s too soon to tell whether the Romney story will affect his chances. And so far, while Warren has been on the defensive over the Native American controversy, recent polls show the Massachusetts Senate race is still very close.

Sign Up

Sign-up for WGBH News updates, WGBH promotions, and previews of what's coming up on WGBH TV.




Support for WGBH is provided by:
Become a WGBH sponsor