Harry Reid, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, And The Death Of Journalistic Integrity
Publishing unsubstantiated rumor is not journalism.
Citing an interview that appeared late yesterday in The Huffington Post, Ed O’Keefe of The Washington Post writes that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid claims that some source that he refuses to identify told him that Mitt Romney paid no taxes for ten years:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) claimed Tuesday in an interview that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney refuses to release additional tax returns because he didn’t pay taxes for 10 years.
The interview, published Tuesday by The Huffington Post, includes several swipes by the Senate leader at the GOP candidate.
“His poor father must be so embarrassed about his son,” Reid said in reference to George Romney’s decision to turn over 12 years of tax returns when he ran for president in 1968.
Reid suggested that Romney’s decision to withhold tax information would bar him from ever earning Senate confirmation to a Cabinet post. Then, Reid recalled a phone call his office received about a month ago from “a person who had invested with Bain Capital,” according to The Huffington Post.
Reid said the person told him: “Harry, he didn’t pay any taxes for 10 years.”
“He didn’t pay taxes for 10 years! Now, do I know that that’s true? Well, I’m not certain,” Reid told HuffPo. “But obviously he can’t release those tax returns. How would it look?”
Neither Reid nor his aides would identify the alleged investor, HuffPo reported.
So let me get this straight. Some guy supposedly calls Harry Reid’s office a month ago, claims to have been an investor with Bain, manages to get direct access to the Senate Majority Leader, and tells him that Romney paid no taxes for an entire decade, a decade in which his fortune grew to hundreds of millions of dollars. Then Reid sits down for an interview with HuffPo reporters Sam Stein and Ryan Grim, tells them this wild tale which he then acknowledges may not even be correct, refuses the reporter’s request to provide information regarding the identity of this supposed anonymous caller, and Stein and Grim still decided to run with the story? Something here just doesn’t smell right.
CNN Money’s Dan Primack calls the entire claim utter nonsense:
One of two things has happened: (1) Reid is simply making the whole thing up, in order to pressure Romney into releasing tax returns for years prior to 2010, or (2) Reid’s investor pal lied, and the Senator didn’t bother to conduct even a mild vetting before sharing the accusation with reporters. Either way, shame on gossipy gentleman from Nevada.
Let me make this crystal clear: Investors in private equity funds do not receive, nor are they entitled to request, personal tax returns for fund managers. Not just at Bain Capital, but everywhere. For example, ask the person managing your 401(k) for their personal tax returns. See how far you get.
What makes this particular claim even sillier, of course, is that Romney hasn’t even been managing Bain funds for the past 10 years (no matter when you believe he left the firm). He’s been a silent investor like Harvard and MIT. Think the guy managing private equity for Harvard can get the personal tax returns of the guy managing private equity for MIT? Yes, that’s another rhetorical question.
And just to close the circle, it also isn’t possible that Reid’s source was someone within Bain because partner tax returns are not prepared or reviewed in the firm’s offices. Instead, that’s done at PricewaterhouseCoopers. So no “maybe someone found it on a fax machine” theories. It’s also possible that someone else at Bain didn’t pay taxes for 10 years, but that wouldn’t necessarily mean that Romney did or didn’t (he does have other financial interests).
Allahpundit, though, points out that Reid isn’t above these kind of tactics in a Presidential race:
No surprise that Reid would smear Romney so casually. He specializes in these tactics during presidential campaigns. In 2008, he made more noise about McCain’s temper being a sign of possible derangement than any other major Democrat. (He also insisted that he couldn’t stand McCain as part and parcel of the demonization effort, even though the two had been known to socialize.) He’s an unusually nasty character, even by normal political standards, when he wants to be; gratuitously accusing George Romney of being disappointed in his son is simply S.O.P. But he does have a strategy here: Pull an accusation of criminality straight out of his ass and hope it gets enough media play that Romney feels obliged to respond. Either Mitt will start to sweat and release his returns, as Democrats have demanded, in order to disprove Reid’s charge or he’ll sit tight and the smear will circulate online, with Romney’s refusal to disclose the documents taken as “proof” that Reid is right.
That seems to be where Alec MacGillis is coming from:
[Reid’s rumor] sounds like something out of a junior-high cafeteria, but then again there’s also an easy way for Romney to knock it down. Which again raises the question: What can possibly be in the returns to make them so dicey to release?
Lurking behind that question, though, is a related one that has gotten less attention: Why in the world did someone who has been running for president since late 2006 not years ago rid his personal finances of anything that could cause problems in a campaign—Swiss bank accounts, Cayman Island shelters, questionable IRAs, and whichever even more troublesome features lurk in the unreleased returns? After all, Romney is nothing if not a cautious, details-oriented fellow—this is someone who held a videotaped family summit before deciding whether to run for president. Why would he not have fixed his finances as carefully as his coiffure before venturing out onto the stage?
That’s not an unfair question, and I’ve already said that Romney should just release the tax returns already. However, that doesn’t really excuse what was done here. First, we have Reid going out and spreading a rumor that cannot possibly be true for the reasons that Primack mentions. Then, we have HuffPo, including Sam Stein who is a political reporter with a fairly good reputation on Capitol Hill publishing the story even though Reid refused to provide them with any corroboration for the claim or even the identity of the source. As Alana Goodman said, that’s not the way these things are normally done:
Reid has a personal and political interest in helping Obama get reelected. If he really received information about Romney dodging taxes from a source he trusted, why on earth would he go to HuffPo to cryptically recount this story second-hand rather thangive them the name of the investor who supposedly knows about it and have the reporters nail it to the wall?
That would be the logical thing to do, wouldn’t it? It happens in Washington all the time, and I’m sure Reid himself has played the game more than once in his career. The only thing one can conclude from this is that Reid is either lying or exaggerating about what the “source” said, or the “source” lied to Reid. Perhaps the “source” really said that he’d heard a rumor that Romney had paid no taxes for ten years, that would be double hearsay at least though and hardly the kind of thing worthy of coverage by a news organization that wants to be taken seriously.
There’s no use speculating on whether or not the source is telling the truth either, because as Primack notes it’s simply not possible that this “investor” would have had access to ten years worth of tax returns. It was irresponsible for HuffPo to report this rumor without corroboration and it was irresponsible for the Post to repeat it. The media does things like this and then they sit around wondering why the public has lost respect for them. You’re doing it to yourselves guys, you’re doing it to yourselves.