NEW YORK -- Richard Grenell, a former Bush administration official who joined the Romney campaign Thursday as national security and foreign policy spokesman, appears to have deleted more than 800 of his past tweets following scrutiny over numerous swipes aimed at the media, prominent Democratic women and the Gingriches. Grenell also apparently took down his personal site, which featured writing on politics, foreign affairs and the media.
On Friday afternoon, Grenell still featured a link to his personal site (http://www.richardgrenell.com) on his Twitter profile, which then showed that he had tweeted 7,577 times, according to a screenshot taken Friday by The Huffington Post. By Sunday morning, Grenell's Twitter feed only listed 6,759 tweets and his personal site is no longer available. (Some examples of past writing have been archived on the Internet and can be found here.)
In the Twitter-fueled 2012 election, it's not surprising that reporters quickly began digging through Grenell's Twitter feed, even before he got a chance to scrub out a number of impolitic and sexist comments.
ThinkProgress noted Grenell's tendency to make cutting remarks about the appearances of prominent women in media and politics, including his tweet advising MSNBC host Rachel Maddow "to take a breath and put on a necklace," and another suggesting she resembled Justin Bieber.
In another tweet, Grenell wrote that "Hillary is starting to look liek Madeline [sic] Albright." He discussed First Lady Michelle Obama working out and "sweating on the East Room carpet." He also asked whether Callista Gingrich's "hair snaps on," and on another occasion, commented how Gingrich's third wife "stands there like she is wife #1." Politico flagged more examples and noted Grenell's "old pastime" of "ridiculing the Gingriches."
When contacted about Romney's hiring of Grenell and his removal of online writing, a campaign spokesperson referred The Huffington Post to a response Grenell gave to Politico. "My tweets were written to be tongue-in-cheek and humorous but I can now see how they can also be hurtful," Grenell said. "I didn’t mean them that way and will remove them from twitter. I apologize for any hurt they caused."
Maddow certainly didn't think Grenell's tweets were so "tongue-in-cheek" or "humorous," pointing out the ones written about her during Friday night's show, while asking if the Romney campaign sees "any sign that they understand that a long, string of really nasty, sexist tweets about Callista Gingrich's appearance might be alienating to people who might otherwise consider voting for Mr. Romney."
But Maddow's not the only member of NBC/MSNBC who Grenell has knocked in recent months. Grenell described NBC's "Meet the Press" on Twitter as "a commercial for the Democratic Party & its radical feminist agenda," while taking a few shots at chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell and political director and White House correspondent Chuck Todd.
"[A]re any reporters asking HillaryClinton tough questions?" Grenell asked on April 3. "NBC has expert foreign policy reporter Andrea @mitchellreports asking non-questions." On March 27, Grenell tweeted that MSNBC "has ushered @chucktodd so far left he's lost his ability to see a Russian video moment as anything more than a 2nd term reality." That same day, Grenell said what he "love[s] about twitter and facebook is that it has outed reporters from their phony facade of pretend non-partisan commentary."
He has also taken a few jabs at BuzzFeed, writing that the Ben Smith-led site "looks like it's either working for [liberal watchdog Media Matters for America] or the Obama re-election." (Smith wrote Saturday how the hiring of Grenell, who's openly gay, quickly prompted an attack from Bryan Fischer, the anti-gay chief spokesman of the American Family Association).
Grenell also recently tweeted that New York Times reporter Matt Bai "isn't fit to cover Obama," and once tweeted that this reporter is a "liberal" who "ignores george @stephanopoulos' secret coordination w/ WhiteHouse on contraception," both posts that appear to have been removed. On another occasion, Grenell disputed whether this reporter's article included a "clarification" or, in his view, a "correction." In a subsequent tweet, he alleged that bias was the motivation for clarifying the article.
On his now-removed personal site, according to a few posts archived online, the spokesman takes similar swipes at the "Fourth Estate."
In May 2010, Grenell criticized New York Times columnist Charles Blow in a post headlined "Charles certainly does Blow."
"Blow's writing is choppy and vapid," Grenell wrote in a post that has since been removed. "His filing today is a 474 word piece of partisan whining for his favorite political party labeled 'Liberals in Limbo". While conservatives won't be shocked that Blow is on staff and writing for the Grey Lady, intellectuals everyway [sic] should demand she do better than Blow."
Grenell has blogged for The Huffington Post as recently as last month.
Given Grenell's repeated swipes at the media, reporters may be concerned that they won't get a fair shake and that legitimate questions could be dismissed as being motivated by liberal bias.
But Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary who worked with Grenell during the Bush years, told The Huffington Post that reporters would do "better to judge people on their human interactions than their Twitter feed."
Fleischer recalled dealing with Grenell when he served as a U.S. spokesman in the United Nations, speaking each day with him on a prep call that also included officials from the Pentagon, CIA, State Department and Joint Chiefs of Staff. Fleischer described Grenell as "sharp," "savvy" and "substantive." He said Grenell "understands the rough and tumble of politics," along with broader policy issues.
And, Fleischer said, Grenell "was a consumate professional in what he did at the United Nations."
While the Bush administration was apparently impressed with Grenell's efforts at the U.N., some members of the U.N press corps weren't as pleased with his press handling.
Reuters veteran Irwin Arieff told The Huffington Post that he's "appalled to hear that the Romney campaign has hired Mr. Grenell in any capacity." In an email response, Arieff, who worked over two decades at Reuters, including seven years covering the U.N, said he found Grenell "to be the most dishonest and deceptive press person I ever worked with."
"He often lied, even more frequently offered half answers or withheld information that would weaken his case or reflect poorly on his ideological point of view," Arieff said. "He was always argumentative with the press, castigating reporters for asking questions he did not like, and calling them to criticize them for writing articles he did not like."
Arieff said Grenell "frequently called my superiors -- or got Amb. [John] Bolton -- to call my editorial superiors to complain about stories, even if they had no errors and were right on target but simply did not fit in with his and/or Bolton's political views." Later, Arieff said that Grenell "was above all a conservative ideologue, who did all he could to twist the press coverage of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations to conform with his and Amb. Bolton's political line."
Some U.N. reporters had similar gripes with Grenell's press handling, according to a 2003 Village Voice article.
Press handlers are expected to be control freaks. But several sources in the UN press corps who spoke on condition of anonymity describe the U.S. spokesperson as "rude," "arrogant," and a "bully," neither popular nor a particularly good source. "He's unbearable," says one journalist. "Very pushy and very demanding," says another. Grenell is said to complain incessantly, hectoring correspondents and their bosses and trying to "mold" wire stories to fit his message. He yells at anyone whose slant doesn't follow his, says one source. "He yells at people whenever he is uncomfortable, particularly foreigners," says another.
A couple correspondents covering the U.N. told the Village Voice that they began to simply avoid Grenell altogether. "I don't go to his briefings," one reporter said at the time. "I don't have respect for him." Another reporter told the paper that they "have as little to do with him as possible."
It remains to be seen how Grenell deals with reporters who will soon be calling to hash out Romney's national security positions. Reporters covering Romney have generally regarded the campaign's press operation as professional and disciplined. Romney staffers push back against some potentially negative stories, as any campaign does, but typically avoid questioning reporters' motives. So the hiring of Grenell, someone with long-standing public gripes about the national media and quick to make bias claims, is noteworthy.
The addition of Grenell also comes on the heels of Mitt Romney's having twice criticized the media in the past week alone, even suggesting during a Breitbart.com interview that there's a "vast left-wing conspiracy" being waged against him. Earlier in the Republican primary Romney had shied away from knee-jerk media bashing.
This story was updated to mention that Richard Grenell has blogged for The HuffingtonPost.
Correction: This post originally misidentified Bryan Fischer. He is chief spokesman of the American Family Association.