Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaking to voters. (Photo credit: mittromney.com)
Self-styled "independent fact-checkers" at the Annenberg Center and the neoconservative-dominated Washington Post have positioned themselves as ardent defenders of Mitt Romney's claims that his Bain Capital tenure ended in 1999 despite questions raised by contradictory information submitted by Romney himself.
Indeed, the behavior of these "fact-checkers" is rapidly becoming the journalism scandal of Campaign 2012 as the likes of Brooks Jackson at Annenberg's FactCheck.org and the Post's Glenn Kessler act more as querulous lawyers protecting Romney than as journalists seeking the actual facts surrounding Romney's curious business narrative.
Much as the Post's Ceci Connolly and the New York Times' Katharine Seeyle engaged in aggressive -- and dishonest -- journalism to portray Vice President Al Gore as a serial liar during Campaign 2000, Jackson and Kessler are performing a similar role in portraying President Barack Obama and his campaign officials as liars now. [For the history, see Consortiumnews.com's "Al Gore v. the Media" or Neck Deep.]
Yet, despite the pro-Romney protectiveness from Jackson and Kessler, the questions raised by the Obama campaign and a number of journalists about Romney's dubious claims -- that he completely divorced himself from his venture capital firm when he rushed off in February 1999 to head the Winter Olympics -- are clearly legitimate. They stem, in large part, from dozens of public disclosures that Bain Capital filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
For instance, one summary of Bain investments via Bain Capital Fund VI, dated Feb. 13, 2001, lists Romney as "the sole shareholder, sole director, Chief Executive Officer and President of Bain Capital and thus is the controlling person of Bain Capital."
Yet, in his presidential campaign disclosure form in 2011, Romney declared that he "has not been involved in the operations of any Bain Capital entity in any way" after leaving Boston for Salt Lake City, Utah, and the Olympics job on Feb. 11, 1999. Jackson and Kessler treat Romney's bald assertion as fact despite the conflicting evidence.
There are also logical questions that any journalist worth his or her salt would ask: "Mr. Romney, does your claim mean you had no contact with your former Bain associates by telephone, e-mail or in person in that time frame? Did you really build a Chinese Wall between yourself and your company?"
Common sense would tell you that Romney did have conversations with his long-time subordinates. There was no legal reason not to, and he was involved enough to sign some of the SEC forms listing him as the person in charge. (Only later, after it became clear that Bain-related plant closings and job outsourcing after February 1999 were a political liability, did Romney start insisting that his separation had been total.)
If Romney now confirms that he had some contacts with Bain executives, the next questions would be when, what, why and with whom. Are there e-mail messages or memos that could be examined? So, instead of offering those kinds of details, he cites the work of these "independent fact-checkers" to shield him from the inquiries.
It was a startling aspect of Romney's brief round-robin interviews with five TV networks on Friday that he was allowed to skate away with squirrelly responses to these questions.
For instance, in the NBC interview, correspondent Peter Alexander asked, "after February 1999 you never attended a single meeting for Bain, a business meeting, even by phone, attending a meeting regarding Bain or Bain-controlled entities?"
Calm and collected with a patronizing smile on his face, Romney responded: "You've got quite a few questions there, so let's go through them. I didn't involve myself in any way with Bain Capital's enterprise after February 1999."
Alexander followed up: "Not participating in a single meeting either in person or by phone?"
Romney answered: "I can't recall a single meeting or a single participation in an investment decision by Bain or personnel decision."