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.