Rather than demand that Romney and Bain Capital release internal records clarifying what Romney's role actually was, the major "independent fact-checkers" have simply sided with Romney's current claims about having "retired retroactively," thus blunting demands that he lift his cover-up and release the relevant facts.
But that means whenever Obama's side cites the negative consequences of Bain's venture-capital strategies, including shipping U.S. jobs overseas and shuttering American factories, most of the campaign press corps cries foul even before the Romney campaign does.
Shear joined that outrage by citing a new ad from a Democratic super PAC that, according to Shear, "essentially accused Mr. Romney of causing the death of a woman whose husband lost his job at a company owned by Mr. Romney's Bain Capital."
The ad by Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama super PAC, tells the story of Joe Soptic, a former employee at GST Steel in Kansas City, Kansas, a factory closed by Bain Capital in 2001. Soptic tells the story of his life after that decision, including how he struggled to earn a living and how his loss of health benefits may have contributed to the delay in detecting his wife's cancer until it was too late to save her life.
The U.S. press corps is now almost universally up in arms over this ad, but it actually is a valid exposition of what happens to real people when distant financial wizards make cost-benefit calculations with little or no regard for the human consequences -- except to make sure that the guys in the boardroom extract their profits first.
The ad was a chance for one common man, Soptic, to express his belief that Romney doesn't care about the little guy. Soptic's story put into context what the impact of macro-economic decisions can be at the street level.
The ad also prompted Romney's spokesperson Andrea Saul to defend her boss by noting that if Soptic had lived in Massachusetts, he would have still had health insurance under the near universal coverage that Romney implemented as governor.
Saul's comment, in turn, provoked outrage from the Right, which was reminded how "Romneycare" -- with its mandate on individuals to buy insurance -- became the model for "Obamacare."
Whether the fastidious U.S. press corps likes it or not, this is how real issues often are forced into a campaign, whereas many journalists seem to prefer obsessing over the "horse race" and trivial questions about personality. Indeed, one could argue that the Obama ads have helped fill a void created by the failure of the press corps to dig deeply into Romney's background.
Similarly, Shear objects to an article in the Huffington Post noting that Bain Capital obtained some of its "initial outside financing ... from a group of Central American oligarchs. The article alleges that some of the investors may have also been financing death squads in El Salvador." Shear protested that "on Wednesday, Democrats eagerly spread" the article around by e-mail.
But isn't that a relevant point that deserves fuller explanation? Just because it may look bad for Romney to turn to right-wing oligarchs from El Salvador in 1984, when he was desperately seeking financing for his new venture-capital firm -- and some of the oligarchs were funding a bloody "dirty war" against peasants, students and clergy -- doesn't mean that the American voters should be shielded from the evidence.
By the way, a similar article was done by the Los Angeles Times earlier this summer. Is Shear suggesting that journalists shouldn't pursue such issues or only that political campaigns shouldn't forward these articles to people who might be interested?
When the American people are being asked to entrust the immense powers of the United States presidency into the hands of one person -- including handing over the nuclear codes that could end all life on Earth -- shouldn't they be given as much information as possible about the candidate?
But the more endemic problem with Shear's article and the similar disapproving tone taken by many other mainstream journalists is their refusal to apply critical thinking to disparate cases of campaign behavior.
The truth is that in most campaigns, one candidate is more mendacious than the other. Sometimes, one side tries to be tough but fair while the other simply throws mud. When journalists like Shear fail to make those distinctions, they actually encourage more mud-slinging -- the very behavior that they purport to condemn.