WARSAW, Poland—As Mitt Romney stood on stage here delivering the final speech of his weeklong overseas tour, television correspondents were positioned just yards away, pre-taping hits for Tuesday's morning news shows back in the United States—and the stories were not just about the substance of Romney's remarks.
A little over an hour before, several reporters traveling with Romney were rebuked by Rick Gorka, the candidate's traveling press secretary, as they shouted questions at the candidate at a public plaza near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
"Gov. Romney, are you concerned about some of the mishaps on your trip?" CNN's Jim Acosta shouted.
"Gov. Romney, do you have a statement for the Palestinians?" the New York Times' Ashley Parker yelled.
"What about your gaffes?" The Washington Post's Phil Rucker added.
While the candidate ignored the questions, Gorka rushed over to the reporters, who were standing about 20 yards away from Romney's motorcade as it sat parked just off a busy public street.
"Show some respect," Gorka snapped.
When a reporter complained the press corps traveling with Romney hadn't had a chance to ask a question of the candidate in days, Gorka, a brusque but usually affable presence on the trail who is known for quoting "Seinfeld," became visibly irritated.
"Kiss my ass," he replied. "This is a holy site for the Polish people. Show some respect."
Gorka later apologized—but by then, he was already famous to millions of TV viewers, who had listened to a clip of the tense exchange replayed on virtually all of the major news networks on Tuesday morning.
The run-in was quickly declared to be another distraction for the Romney campaign, which has struggled to stay on message during the candidate's international tour. But the episode pointed to a larger question about Romney's visits to the United Kingdom, Israel and Poland: What exactly was the message?
Before Romney began his foreign jaunt, his aides cast the trip as a chance for him to prove to voters he was a capable of handling foreign affairs—largely considered one of the weaker elements of his political resume.
But Romney and his campaign were on defense literally from the moment he arrived in London, the first stop of his tour. His comments to NBC News suggesting that London's preparations for the Olympics were "disconcerting" caused a firestorm within the British media—and prompted more bad headlines back home.
Romney went before reporters to clarify his remarks—the only time he took questions from the full traveling press corps during his entire trip. But his campaign offered no pushback to the drama—even though, as the Washington Post's Erik Wemple noted, Romney was merely repeating what the British media had been agonizing over for weeks.
In Israel, Romney seemed to have a smoother start, but courted controversy again when he seemed to suggest at a fundraiser in Jerusalem that Israel was doing better than Palestine economically because of its "culture." Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for the campaign, told reporters traveling with Romney that the candidate's comments had been "grossly mischaracterized"—but the campaign offered no explanation for what Romney actually meant.