Harry Reid Plays The Lying Game

Like most, I doubt that Harry Reid actually has the goods on Mitt Romney’s taxes. He of course says a source at Romney’s Bain Capital told him Mittens didn’t pay a dime’s worth of taxes for a decade. While a multi-multi-millionaire like Romney avoiding all federal taxation is far from improbable — just look at General Electric — the issue is whether Reid actually knows this, or whether, as most think, he’s bluffing to force Romney to release the tax forms and prove him wrong.

Now, old Harry many not be many things, among them a silky slick media operator. The guy is more dogged than artful. But he must have decided he’ll risk the hit if Romney ever does release his tax information — for a decade, not just an estimate for the past quarter — and proves that, yes, by god, he did pay as much in total taxes as a Target check-out clerk. So take that Harry, you slimy liar!

But of course the controversy over Reid’s claim — which he has shamelessly repeated — is that it is proof of the rancid gutter politics regularly practiced by liberals (Harry Reid raging liberal … ) against righteous defenders of America’s moral core, which is to say entrepreneurial, job-creating patriots like Romney and Karl Rove and … well, you know the suspect line-up as well as I do. Even Jon Stewart ripped Reid, as has every conservative blogger who hasn’t had their electricity turned off for non-payment.

Stewart and other non-echo chamber ideologues were disappointed that so prominent a figure in the dwindling adult caucus of Congress had descended to the same level of well, lying your ass off for headlines and cash, as the … entire GOP presidential field and all their SuperPAC managers. “Liberals”, Stewart implied, are supposed to be playing a more noble game.

This dichotomy of standards is of course germane to us here at The Same Rowdy Crowd as we furiously make notes for Wednesday’s inaugural book club. (Scroll down for details). It will be a (polite and collegial) discussion of “It’s Even Worse Than It looks”, Norm Ornstein and Tom Mann’s unequivocating indictment of the reckless insurgent games today’s conservative movement regularly plays with the truth and the function of government. (Warning: Please arrive on time and with your cell phones off. The Great and Wonderful Austin will deduct full points for tardiness and texting during his lecture.)

The problem that Reid’s ploy creates for anyone who still has some respect for truth, is that it offers ideal cover for journalists — who, in tough economic times, have an aversion to over-playing “the truth thing”. With Reid most likely lying/bullshitting for tactical effect, journalists can exhale and repeat with great confidence that, “You see, both sides are doing it.”

A quick personal story. A few weeks ago an otherwise fine local TV station asked me to come out and regale their audience with my deep thoughts on a matter of grave importance. I forget now what the hook was, but the questioning went immediately to the poisonous atmosphere in politics today with both sides saying so many silly and terrible things about each other. Having been through the punditry thing a time or two I understood that my role was to play some kind of Solomonic Master of Balance, commiserating with the anchor about the squalid state of affairs, decrying the overall debasement of civil discourse and wringing hands over the unlikelihood of anything changing … at least until the asteroid strikes.

But I wasn’t into it that day, and I had just finished reading a chunk of Ornstein and Mann’s book. So, instead of the ritual commiseration, I suggested to the anchor that if journalists’ concern about the corrosive effect of so much lying on American life was as sincere as they made it seem, they held in their hands a fairly simple mitigator … which would be … the truth. Point being, instead of “reporting” the latest asinine tactical attack by one side or the other as though that was the beginning and end of the story, take on as a responsibility, and a journalistic standard, ascertaining what was true and reporting both the facts of any claim AND the name of the person or group filling the airwaves with flagrant falsehoods. I also added, for effect, that while it is true both sides engage in eye-rolling “untruth”, the fact is the modern Republican party engages in it far … far …more often and egregiously than liberals, and until an editorial decision is made to ID the worst perpetrators and make them own their deceits, nothing much is going to change.

The anchor’s response to this was to warn against a descent into “opinion journalism”. Mine to that was that it was the anti-thesis of “opinion” if it was factually accurate.

When the five-minute interview ended I told the young producer, “I’ll be interested to see how much of that makes the final cut”, and of course very little did. Post-editing, I was reduced to another concerned, commiserating hand-wringer lamenting the debased nature of America’s public dialogue. That being the narrative that fits most comfortably with commercial news.

35 thoughts on “Harry Reid Plays The Lying Game

  1. Jeremy Powers says:

    I think Reid’s comments were out of line because he really doesn’t know. But let’s face it, this is what almost all of us are thinking.

    1. As raw politics, its a legitimate tactic. If Romney releases the returns — and no one can see how he gets through the fall without releasing them — and it turns out he’s paid even an average of 13%, Harry risks looking bad. But … you know there’s so much other stuff in their that Reid’s “mischaracterization” won’t matter to anyone. But of course if the stuff was all clean and he paid a rate somewhere close to 13% … he’d have happily released them by now and saved himself a lot of trouble.

      But will he explain how the horse is a business expense?

  2. Minnesotan says:

    Sounds somewhat similar to the opening scene in The Newsroom. I agree, journalist don’t have to just report what was said, they could go a little further and say if it was accurate or not.

  3. A Son of Mississippi says:

    I tip my cap to Harry Reid. Whether he has a source or not, I think he’s just as tired as the rest of us of Mitt’s bullshit. It’s a stealth campaign intended to say little of substance other than Obama is the devil and greed is good. I think Romney is the worst Presidential candidate offered by a major party during my lifetime. The man doesn’t possess any core principles other than money, family and church. Everything else is open to whichever way the wind is blowing this month. Reid, who generally reminds me of Stan Laurel both in looks and demeanor, finally had the balls to call Mitt on his strategy and lack of gravitas.

  4. Paul Scott says:

    I doubt Harry made that up. It has the ring of truth to it, he has much to lose by being wrong, and it seems very likely that Romney avoided paying taxes for ten years, given his demonstrable professional skill in taking advantage of monetary slight of hand.

    Your horrible interview experience would make me swear off the medium going forward, then go put a knitting needle in my eyeball.

    1. My guess is Harry’s got something better than nothing, or certainly knows that Romney’s effective rate is so low it’s a guaranteed winner for the Democrats once out in the open. He is the Senate Majority Leader after all, and does even the IRS keep secrets in DC? Put another way, how would LBJ have handled this?

  5. Joe Loveland says:

    When reporters know a claim to be demonstrably false, they should label it false, and present the evidence proving it is false.

    When they know a claim to be demonstrably true, they should state that is true and supply the corroborating evidence.

    Whey someone makes a claim of undetermined veracity with no supporting evidence, they should characterize it as being an unsubstantiated claim.

    Harry’s claim falls into the latter category. We don’t know that it is true. We don’t know that it is false. We only know it is a claim with no evidence, so that’s how it should be presented.

    That’s exactly how most of the reporting on the Reid claim has gone down, so it seems to me reporters are doing a pretty solid job with this issue. Harry shouldn’t be condemned or lauded, he should just be know as someone making a claim with no proof.

    1. Erik says:

      1 and 2 are alright as far as that goes. 3 legitimizes a “have you stopped beating your wife?” line of inquiry. I mean hey, we have no proof one way or another. Obviously Joe, this is a fallacious, flabby train of thought.

      In any event, Harry’s insipid categorical claim doesn’t fall into category 3. A proper factual understanding of the tax code is that to not pay taxes on the kind of money has Romney has, you’d either have to not file or not report income in those 10 years. Neither of these is remotely likely.

      He’s paying taxes. The question is how much. The other question is, why is the “how much” question not a good enough argument to have, rather than Reid’s insipid argument.

      1. Erik says:

        Right. Most of those concepts fall under the definition of ‘reporting income’. I didn’t use that phrase inaccurately, but I was too technical for a broad discussion.

        My point is that based on what we already know, people with remedial knowledge, including reporters, can come to the sensible conclusion that he pays taxes. You’re being a bit willfully obtuse.

    2. Obviously the problem for commercial news organizations is that if they start pushing the “bullshit” button they quickly get to a point where they’re perceived (correctly) as hammering one side far more than the other.

  6. Mike Thomas says:

    So….if a conservative talk show host allegedly says things without citation or sources we get the fire and pitch forks out and claim victimization. HOWEVER, if the Senate Majority Leader (for a few more months) starts on a senile rant we give him a pass because, well supposedly some Republicans lied…huh? Where is Al Franken standing up and grand standing about having your own opinion but can’t have your own facts..
    Laughable to call Romney bumbling when this is your Senate Majority Leader.

      1. Joe Loveland says:

        I second PM’s motion.

        And for candidates seeking to be leader of the free world, releasing tax forms is hardly an outrageous, unpredidented strip search of a requirement. It’s been the norm for over four decades.

        It’s been done, to varying degrees, by presidential candidates back to Mitt Romney’s father, who released 12 years worth of returns in 1968, noting “One year could be a fluke, perhaps done for show, and what mattered in personal finance was how a man conducted himself over the long haul.”

        Holy Bush PTSD, we have another wealthy politician’s son working out his daddy issues in the middle of a presidential campaign.

      2. Erik says:

        Joe, is it your feeling the President doesn’t have daddy issues?

        Or do you just think that daddy issues derived from being the child of a Marxist academic are morally superior by comparison?

      3. Joe Loveland says:

        President Obama also has daddy issues, it’s true. Pretty big ones, as any abandoned child would.

        The particular flavor of daddy issues I was referring to was the child born into extreme wealth and power feeling the need to one-up the father who handed it all to them on a silver platter, even if it if means the son being less ethical than the father. Governor Romney and Governor Bush seem to have that in common.

      4. Erik says:

        To paraphrase Romney’s public statement about it: he says the President and his surrogates will cherry pick things to distort and lie about.

        You have a persuasive argument otherwise?

  7. Erik says:

    To paraphrase Romney’s public statement about it: he says the President and his surrogates will cherry pick things to distort and lie about.

    You think you can make a persuasive argument otherwise?

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      If you accept the “someone might criticize it” excuse for not disclosing, then we’ll never have any disclosure, and voters will be flying completely blind. That’s very, very dangerous for a democracy.

      For 40-ish years, presidential candidates from both political parties have routinely released their tax returns so voters would know how they made their money, how much they paid to support their country, and whether they obeyed the laws they would be in charge of enforcing. After 40 years of that, one guy refuses to do it.

      His reason for bucking the 40-year tradition? Someone might criticize it.

      I agree with George Will, Donald Trump, Ed Rollins, Ron Paul, Haley Barbour, Brit Hume, David Frum, Rick Perry, and many other conservatives who have called on Romney to release his tax returns. Romney’s refusal to disclose has an awful odor to it.

      1. Erik says:

        There’s a precedent just as long that candidates release their academic and medical records. The President refuses to do that… probably… because there’s something awkward or mildly embarrassing to be revealed. Him wanting to avoid criticism must be different though, right?

      2. Joe Loveland says:

        On the medical front, I can tell you from disclosures what specific substances are flowing through the President’s blood and urine. I can tell you that he has had rashes, though I cannot tell you what type. I hope that doesn’t cause you to lose sleep.

        Nonpartisan FactCheck.org notes: “During the 2008 campaign, Obama released summary medical information from his personal physician, who pronounced him to be in “excellent health” with routine test results for such things as cholesterol all within normal levels. Since taking office, Obama has followed the practice of earlier presidents. He released results of his first “periodic” physical exam on Feb. 28, 2010. Results of his second “periodic” exam were released Oct. 31, 2011. His physician described him as being “in excellent health and ‘fit for duty.’”

        On the academic front, it first perhaps should be noted that Harvard Law students tend not to elect imbeciles or slackers President of the Harvard Law Review.

        Next it should be noted that Romney hasn’t released his grades from college either. John McCain disclosed his class rank in 2007, but not his grades. John Kerry made his Yale transcript public only after he lost the 2004 election. W refused to release his, though they got leaked.

        In contrast, and getting back to the subject at hand, Factcheck.org notes: “With the lone exception of McCain, all candidates over the last 30 years each have released more than two years of tax returns.”

      3. Erik says:

        Right. But if all this stuff is so benign and easily explained, he’d just release his medical history and his academic records. You can only conclude he’s hiding something from public critique.

  8. Joe Loveland says:

    In an attempt to extend the story another day, Reid yesterday announced that the tax form source was a Republican. Perhaps today’s attempt to give the story legs will be for Reid to announce that the source is bigger than a bread box?

    1. Erik says:

      Tell me Joe, what do you think of Harry Reid being the NRA’s water carrier in the Senate? You must find him very credible there as well, right?

      You don’t have to answer that. The more interesting question I think is the robust curriculum for this appeal to authority module you took at PR school.

      This is laughable.

  9. Joe Loveland says:

    Re: “The more interesting question I think is the robust curriculum for this appeal to authority module you took at PR school.”

    Sorry, I don’t understand the question. I have a simple mind.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think Seantor Reid should have done this. I think someone in a delicate and important role like his needs to stay away from white hot unsubstantiated claims, even if he has been assured they are true (?). Our democracy needs Senate leaders that can strike bipartisan compromises, and this chapter will make it more difficult for Senator Reid to serve that function.

    BUT, it is possible to simultaneously believe that 1) Harry shouldn’t have made the unsubstantiated claim and 2) Mitt should do what his father and other Presidential candidates over several decades have done to inform the American people.

    Two very separate issues.

  10. pm says:

    Interesting the current speculation that Reid’s source is John Huntsman Sr.

    He is someone who would be in a position to know.

    What ii Reid is correct? I suspect that if he is then Romney never will release the returrns. That is not exactly the same thing as saying if Romney does not release his returns it is proof that he didn’t pay taxes….but a lot of people might see it that way.

    1. Erik says:

      Yeah… interesting. The basis of the speculation is…. that it’s the excretionary brainstorm of Markos Moulitsas… who ostensibly makes that connection because Romney and Hunstman Sr. are businessmen and Mormon, and because Harry Reid is a Mormon.

      Hunstman Sr. denies though.

      I grant Harry Reid has accrued more credibility over the years, but there’s no difference here between this and what Michelle Bachmann is doing.

      Lambo is correct. Insofar as you Dems represent the smart set (real or imagined) and have an assumption of credibility, it’s being squandered on an insipidy.

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