July 15, 2012 · 2 Comments
By Marie Burns:
You’ll have to turn to the New York Times‘ op-ed page to get even a vague assessment of when Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney left Bain Capital, the company that is the source of his millions and his “key argument that … he has the experience necessary to create jobs and spur a struggling economy.” The New York Times‘ news coverage of this major political story has been deplorable.
After days of intense media coverage elsewhere, New York Times columnist Charles Blow gets it right in his lede Saturday: “Mitt Romney’s stories just don’t jibe.” Blow then cites stories from the Boston Globe – a paper owned by the New York Times Company – and the Huffington Post that report documentation suggesting Romney is being tricky, deceitful or, um, criminal in claiming that he “left” Bain Capital in February 1999. New York Times columnist Gail Collins adds, “While he was in Utah getting the luge runs in shape, Romney was also still getting a six-figure salary for being a Bain ‘executive.’ Perhaps for Mitt, that was just the going-away equivalent of a monogrammed briefcase.”
Just when – and to what extent – Mitt Romney ceded control of Bain matters. The Obama campaign and others have claimed that Romney outsourced U.S. jobs to China and Mexico; these claims are based, in part, on deals Bain cut during the 1999-2001 period when Romney was running the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah and was, by contemporaneous Bain accounts, contributing only part-time at Bain. Beginning in late June, the Obama campaign began running ads in swing states that defined Romney as a “corporate raider” who “shipped jobs to China and Mexico.” (Videos of the ads are here.) Both FactCheck.org (on June 29 and on July 12) and Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post‘s so-called fact-checker (on July 12 and on July 13), have written that there is no evidence supporting the Obama ads. We’ll get to that.
Mitt Romney’s work at Bain Capital has been controversial since, well, since 1994, when Romney ran an unsuccessful campaign to unseat Massachusetts’ U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy. In the final weeks of the campaign, Kennedy ran ads (here, here and here) featuring people who had lost their jobs when Bain Capital took over an Indiana company where they worked. In a parallel aside, Ari Shapiro of NPR reported earlier this year that “Romney was on leave from Bain and had nothing to do with the decision [to fire the workers].” But, like so much of the mainstream media’s reporting on Romney’s Bain years, Shapiro is most likely wrong. Steve Benen of “The Rachel Maddow Show” wrote Friday, “In 2002, a Boston Globe article quoted a former Bain Capital executive named Marc B. Wolpow who said Mr. Romney remained in a very active role at Bain Capital while he was supposedly on a leave of absence for his  Senate race. Wolpow specifically said of Romney’s role, “I reported directly to Mitt Romney…. You can’t be CEO of Bain Capital and say, ‘I really don’t know what my guys were doing.”’”
During the 2012 Republican presidential primary season, Romney’s GOP rivals Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum all challenged Romney’s business credentials. Perry coined the term “vulture capitalist” to describe Romney and said Romney was trying to “paper over” what he did at Bain. A pro-Gingrich superPAC aired a 28-minute campaign “documentary” titled “King of Bain” in South Carolina. The film “portray[s] Romney and Bain as ruthless, quick-buck corporate raiders who reaped huge financial rewards at the expense of faithful employees.” FactCheck.org called it a “one-sided, distorted view of Romney’s years at Bain Capital.” After winning the South Carolina primary, Gingrich denounced the film. Santorum, who had defended Romney against the Gingrich and Perry attacks during this period, later called Romney “a Wall Street financier … who’s going to take and look after as he did his friends on Wall Street and bail them out at the expense of Main Street America.”
None of Romney’s rivals for the GOP presidential nomination, however, had serious oppo teams. Even the material for “King of Bain,” the most detailed attack on Romney, “came from opposition research … from one of Romney’s Republican opponents in the 2008 presidential election.”
But the Obama campaign does have a sophisticated oppo team, and it used its oppo material to create the anti-Romney ad it began airing on June 20. In addition, the team produced a second ad citing a June 21, 2012, Washington Post story by Tom Hamburger which reported that “Mitt Romney’s financial company, Bain Capital, invested in a series of firms that specialized in relocating jobs done by American workers to new facilities in low-wage countries like China and India.” Hamburger wrote that “Bain’s foray into outsourcing began in 1993…. In addition to taking an interest in companies that specialized in outsourcing services, Bain also invested in firms that moved or expanded their own operations outside of the United States.” Hamburger cited multiple examples.
Nonetheless, FactCheck.org determined in late June that “some of the claims in the [Obama] ads are untrue, and others are thinly supported.” Stephanie Cutter of the Obama team made a formal objection to the FactCheck.org finding. In a six-page letter (pdf) to FactCheck.org and copied to other news media, the campaign wrote that FactCheck.org’s “assessment that Mitt Romney surrendered active management of Bain Capital – that he ‘left Bain’ – in February 1999 to run the Salt Lake City Olympics … [which] appears to be central to your position … is not a fact at all.” Cutter provided extensive documentation demonstrating that Mitt Romney continued to work at Bain after he took the Olympics job in February 1999. Among those proofs:
“… at least 63 [SEC] filings with that agency after March 1, 1999 that list various Bain entities and describe them as ‘wholly owned by W. Mitt Romney.’” Numerous SEC filing name Romney as “the sole shareholder, sole director, Chief Executive Officer and President of Bain Capital and thus is the controlling person of Bain Capital.
“In addition to being CEO and owner of Bain in 2001, Romney filed financial disclosures with the state of Massachusetts in 2002 and 2003 stating that for the calendar years 2001 and 2002, he received over $100,000 from Bain Capital Inc. in connection with his position as an executive, and another $100,000-plus in income in 2001 and 2002 from Bain Capital LLC in connection with his position as an executive of that management entity.
Cutter goes on to cite news reports that back up the SEC filings:
According to a Boston Herald interview with Romney at the time, “Romney said he will stay on as a part-timer with Bain, providing input on investment and key personnel decisions.” (“Romney looks to restore Olympic Pride” Boston Herald 2/12/1999)
When Romney did finally surrender control in mid-2001, the Salt Lake Tribune reported the following: ‘In so, he gave up control over all of Bain Capital’s voting stock, dividing the shares between the two dozen directors. The divestiture had no financial ramifications, Romney said, affecting only the management and control of the company.’ (‘Romney Plans to Pursue Public Service” Salt Lake Tribune 8/21/2001). In other words, prior to 2001, Romney exercised control and participated in management–just as he said he would do in 1999. [Emphasis original]
In a Boston Globe interview with Ann Romney from November 2000 the reporter learned that Mitt Romney was dividing his time between running Bain and running the Olympics project. ‘The [Olympics] project is running smoothly now, though still requiring so much of Mitt Romney’s time that he has had to lessen his involvement with Bain Capital, his investment firm.’ (‘West Wings Sprout,’ Boston Globe 11/11/2000)….
In his autobiography, Romney wrote that he severed ties with Bain in 1999 when he took the Olympic job and told his partners he wasn’t coming back. But R. Bradford Malt, one of Bain’s lawyers, who now manages Romney’s personal finances, said Romney took a leave of absence, ‘partly because of the speed it all happened and partly because it was a limited gig.’ That meant Romney retained full, sole ownership of the firm for two more years as he worked on the Olympics. (‘Cash, Advice on Tap at Romney’s Old Firm’ Washington Post 10/21/2007)…
FactCheck.org’s response to Cutter’s letter: “We strongly disagree….” In a separate FactCheck.org post dated July 2, Brooks Jackson and Robert Farley wrote, “In fact, if the Obama campaign were correct, Romney would be guilty of a federal felony by certifying on federal financial disclosure forms that he left active management of Bain Capital in February 1999.” They call Cutter’s evidence “selective news snippets and irrelevant securities documents.” As “proof,” they cite an August 2011 Financial Disclosure form, which declares
Mr. Romney retired from Bain Capital on February 11, 1999 to head the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. Since February 11, 1999, Mr. Romney has not had any active role with any Bain Capital entity and has not been involved in the operations of any Bain Capital entity in any way. Romney’s signature appears on the line that states: ‘I certify that statements I have made on this form and all attached schedules are true, complete and correct to the best of my knowledge.’
Jackson and Farley write that they also checked again with a Bain executive who again confirmed to them that Romney “retired from Bain Capital in February 1999.” In other words, FactCheck.org thinks fact-checking means taking Mitt Romney’s and a Bain executive’s word on something for which there is ample evidence to the contrary. It considers sworn SEC filings “irrelevant securities documents.” Of course, FactCheck.org should not have taken Stephanie Cutter’s word, either. The FactCheck writers should have fact-checked out her sources, too, which were all on the public record. Instead they dismissed the Obama camp’s material as “weak” and “irrelevant.”
One thing Jackson and Farley complain about: Cutter sent her letter “… without notice to us – to other news organizations.” In all likelihood, one of those other news organizations to receive a copy of Cutter’s evidence was the New York Times. That is, the Obama campaign spoon-fed information to the Times which undercut Romney’s claim that he left Bain in 1999. The Times has published no stories incorporating the information, and as we’ll see shortly, its coverage of the story so far ignores and occasionally contradicts the documentation Cutter proffered. Even in the unlikely event the Times “didn’t get the memo,” it was available to editors and reporters – and to you and me – online. Cutter’s letter was not a secret communique. (Thank you, Al Gore, for inventing the Internet.)
On July 2 – the same day FactCheck.org published its rebuttal to the Obama campaign – David Corn of Mother Jones reported,
Documents filed by Bain and Stericycle with the Securities and Exchange Commission … list Romney as an active participant in the investment [in Stericycle, a medical-waste disposal firm that has been attacked by anti-abortion groups for disposing aborted fetuses collected from family planning clinics]…. Responding to a recent Washington Post story reporting that Bain-acquired companies outsourced jobs, the Romney campaign insisted that Romney exited Bain in February 1999, a month or more before Bain took over two of the companies named in the Post‘s article. The SEC documents undercut that defense….
The Stericycle investment, which was finalized in late 1999, makes it pretty obvious why Romney would want to dissociate himself from Bain early in 1999. Imagine how Romney’s anti-abortion base would appreciate knowing their candidate was making money disposing of aborted fetuses. Sorry, people, that is one of the ways Mitt Romney has made his millions.
The next day, July 3, Corn wrote a post titled “The Mystery of Romney’s Exit from Bain,” in which he reported on some of Stephanie Cutter’s rebuttal to FactCheck.org. Corn wrote that FactCheck.org (and a Fortune writer who cited anonymous Bain sources) “did not take into account all the evidence.” Corn notes that, for instance, the FactCheck writers ignored filings that show Romney as the sole owner of a business that was not even incorporated until after Romney claims he left Bain. Corn asks,
Is it believable that while he remained Bain’s owner and possessed full legal control of assorted Bain entities, he never took an interest in what the firm and its funds were doing? The Romney campaign and Bain insist that Romney had not a thing to do with Bain after February 1999, though he signed filings and pocketed millions. But they won’t answer specific questions about Romney and Bain during this period….
Aside from David Corn, the media seems to have ignored Cutter’s letter for another week. On July 10, though, Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo wrote a blogpost titled, “No, Romney Didn’t Leave Bain in 1999.” In the post, Marshall cites “two SEC filings from July 2000 and February 2001 in which Romney lists his ‘principal occupation’ as ‘Managing Director of Bain Capital, Inc.’” (Cutter, who cites only a sample of the 63 SEC filings in her letter to FactCheck.org includes the Febrary 2001 filing but not the July 2000 filing.)
Two days later – Thursday, July 12 – the Boston Globe published a story by its reporters Callum Borchers and Christopher Rowland asserting that
Government documents filed by Mitt Romney and Bain Capital say Romney remained chief executive and chairman of the firm three years beyond the date he said he ceded control, even creating five new investment partnerships during that time. Romney has said he left Bain in 1999 to lead the winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, ending his role in the company. But public Securities and Exchange Commission documents filed later by Bain Capital state he remained the firm’s ‘sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president.’ Also, a Massachusetts financial disclosure form Romney filed in 2003 states that he still owned 100 percent of Bain Capital in 2002. And Romney’s state financial disclosure forms indicate he earned at least $100,000 as a Bain ‘executive’ in 2001 and 2002, separate from investment earnings.
The article quoted former SEC commissioner Roberta S. Karmel, now a professor at Brooklyn Law, who said,
You can’t say statements filed with the SEC are meaningless. This is a fact in an SEC filing. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to say he was technically in charge on paper but he had nothing to do with Bain’s operations, Was he getting paid? He’s the sole stockholder. Are you telling me he owned the company but had no say in its investments? … If someone invested with Bain Capital because they believed Mitt Romney was a great fund manager, and it turns out he wasn’t really doing anything, that could be considered a misrepresentation to the investor. It’s a theory that could be used in a lawsuit against him.
The Globe story added, “In Romney’s 2002 race for governor, he testified before the state Ballot Law Commission that his separation from Bain in 1999 had been a ‘leave of absence’ and not a final departure.”
By various accounts, the Globe story was a “blockbuster,” a “bombshell” or a “possible game-changer.” So how did the New York Times handle the news? Michael Shear of the Times wrote a “Caucus” blogpost titled “Report on Romney’s Bain Tenure Seized On by Obama Camp,” and posted it Thursday (July 12) afternoon. Here’s the lede to the post, which has been “updated” twice:
President Obama’s campaign on Thursday seized on a new report [the Boston Globe story] on Mitt Romney’s truthfulness about his tenure at Bain Capital even as the Republican candidate began airing a television commercial calling the president a liar. The competing character attacks are evidence that a furious, highly personal phase in the presidential campaign is under way as both candidates seek to undercut whatever trust voters might have had in their rivals.
Shear didn’t post a link to the Romney ad, but Jed Lewison of Daily Kos has it here. The Romney ad relies on two fact-checker reports, one by Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post and the two by FactCheck.org reports we’ve cited, all of which claimed the Obama campaign was untruthful when it said Romney was responsible for outsourcing jobs to foreign companies.
Michael Shear’s entire post is framed in traditional New York Times “he said/he said” format and casts as much or more doubt on President Obama as it does on Romney. To back up the “Romney said” part, Shear writes, “Several news organizations and independent fact checkers have raised doubts about Mr. Obama’s attacks, noting that the appearance of Mr. Romney’s name on securities and partnership documents does not necessarily prove his active involvement in running the company.” Shear makes no reference to Cutter’s rebuttal.
Shear treats the Globe story as if it were old news: “The securities documents cited in the Globe story have been noted in the past by other news outlets. The New York Times reported months ago that Mr. Romney continued to receive investment income from his Bain partnership for years.” But of course the fact that Romney is receiving income from Bain was not the issue that the Globe story raised. The Globe reporters, building on the Obama camp oppo research and Corn’s and Marshall’s reporting, concentrated on Romney’s position as “sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president” of Bain. At the very end of his post that Shear acknowledges that
… the Globe story was apparently the first to note that Mr. Romney appears to have retained the title of chief executive and president during the period. The paper said disclosure documents in Massachusetts show that Mr. Romney was paid at least $100,000 for those services at the time. That raises questions about why Mr. Romney kept those titles and earned income for services if he was no longer actively involved in making decisions.
Since earlier in his piece Shear had already made an indirect reference to Romney’s having “retained the title of chief executive and president” and that retaining the titles “does not necessarily prove his active involvement,” this paragraph noting that the very same facts “raise questions” appears to be a later addition to the post (whether the graf was published in the first two versions of this blogpost, we’ll never know – the Times has vaporized the earlier versions). Besides, in all likelihood, Shear’s editors learned from Stephanie Cutter nine days before Shear wrote his report that Romney had retained his titles and was receiving compensation for acting as Bain’s “executive.” The New York Times should hardly be surprised that the Globe story “raises questions” – questions that Cutter must have raised to the Times, too.
Shear claims that “So far there has been no contemporaneous evidence of Mr. Romney’s active participation in management decisions during the time in question.” He is very specific about what type of “evidence” would pass New York Times muster: “notes of meetings attended by Mr. Romney” or “conference calls or partnership meetings that he participated.”
Evidently divine intervention doesn’t count for much with the New York Times. Shear cites an excerpt from The Real Romney, a biography by the Boston Globe’s Michael Kranish and Scott Helman. According to Kranish and Helman, there was internal squabbling at Bain after Romney took the Olympics job. To solve the problem, “… one Sunday afternoon, Romney and one of his fellow Mormons at Bain Capital, Bob Gay, knelt on the floor together and prayed for its survival. ‘We were facing a crucial event that threatened the very existence [of] our firm’s partnership,’ Gay said later. In the end, the crisis abated.” Shear uses this incident as a “proof” Romney was no longer involved with Bain. In fact, the incident demonstrates just the opposite: that Romney continued to take an active role in the management of Bain. How would Romney even have heard about the “squabbling” if he no longer had any direct involvement in Bain? Maybe God spoke to him. Seriously, a “power struggle” that has “several partners ma[king] plans to leave” does not just “abate,” and supernatural beings do not resolve the conflicts from on high. Rather, someone like a “sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president” would have to get in there and knock some heads.
Writers for other media outlets got closer to the mark than did Shear in assessing the importance of the Globe report. Henry Blodgett of Business Insider, who is not an Obama partisan, wrote a post titled, “Sorry, Mitt Romney, You Can’t Be Chairman, CEO, And President Of A Company And Not Be Responsible For What It Does.”
And in a post titled, “Romney may have committed felony lying about role with Bain,” John Aravosis of AmericaBlog nailed the issue in straightforward terms: “1. Romney told the SEC that he remained the firm’s ‘sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president’ up until 2002. 2. But Romney said in a more recent financial disclosure form that he left Bain in 1999 – so the two federal forms contradict each other, at least one is a lie.” Aravosis wrote of the Globe report, “This is big news, as it backs up what the Obama campaign has been alleging – that Romney was still in charge of Bain when it outsourced US jobs – and this directly contradicts Factcheck.org’s claim otherwise.”
FactCheck.org disagreed with Aravosis. After saying they would rethink their earlier findings, Jackson and Farley wrote a post, dated July 12, in which they concluded that “None of the SEC filings show that Romney was anything but a passive, absentee owner during that time, as both Romney and Bain have long said.” At this point, FactCheck.org and Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post start citing each other as experts – the fact-checker crowd circling the wagons, determined to have their original assessments stand, no matter what facts might intervene.
Kessler also said he would reconsider his earlier assessment. Citing himself, FactCheck.org and the Fortune story that relied on anonymous sources and one set of Bain offering documents, Kessler wrote a snarky piece defending Romney on July 12. In his “reassessment,” he pouted that “we thought we had settled” the issue back in January,” and he complained that “it really feels like Groundhog Day again.” Kessler claimed that the Globe “story seems to hinge on a quote from a former Securities and Exchange Commission member, which would have more credibility if the Globe had disclosed she was a regular contributor to Democrats.” But if the Globe story “hinged” on Roberta Karmel’s remarks, it is odd the report didn’t even mention her until halfway through page 2. Needless to say, Kessler didn’t change his mind.
Prof. Brad DeLong explains Kessler’s logic:
In 2002 Mitt Romney decided that he had retired from Bain in 1999. Yes, you read that correctly. When Mitt Romney took over the Salt Lake City Olympics in February 1999, he intended to come back and run Bain Capital full-time afterwards – and he wanted to make sure that everybody at Bain Capital knew that he was still the boss… and that everybody should be careful to make sure that their actions were things Romney approved of. Come 2002, Mitt Romney decided that he was going to run for Governor of Massachusetts. So come 2002 Romney decides that he had retired from Bain Capital back in 1999.
Sorry, Brad. Kessler gets worse. The next day – Friday, July 13 – Kessler wrote another post, titled “Do Bain SEC documents suggest Mitt Romney is a criminal?” In this post, Kessler purports to examine whether or not Mitt Romney signed off on inconsistent statements on various federal disclosure forms. First, Kessler independently decides that a 2002 SEC filing that described Romney as a Bain “executive” was “a typo.” Then, like the FactCheck.org writers, Kessler decides that Romney could not have lied on a recent (August 2011) financial disclosure form because “that would be a felony.” Therefore, he can’t be a criminal! That is, in a test to determine whether or not Romney committed a crime, Kessler concludes that Romney could not have committed a crime because he would not commit a crime. I have never seen anything like it.
Saturday afternoon, July 14, Kessler posted yet another article attempting to justify his assessments: “It’s not often that one of my columns gets more than 5,000 comments, many of them angry…. My best friend from third grade even sent me a message on Facebook saying I ‘was carrying the Republicans’ water.’” Gee, sometimes being a jerk has consequences. Other than letting us know he got lots of attention, Kessler didn’t add anything new with this post, though he said a bit more forcefully than in his earlier assessments, “I readily concede that the years 1999-2002 represent a gray period in Romney’s background. The SEC documents, especially the ones Romney signed, do raise some questions.”
PolitiFact, which had not previously reviewed either of the Obama ads, finally stepped into the game Friday, July 13. Acknowledging the controversy surrounding Kessler’s and FactCheck.org’s assessments, PolitiFact’s Jon Greenberg disagreed with them. He deemed the outsourcing charge true: “We find reasonable grounds for labeling the companies as ‘Romney’s.’ He was the founder of Bain and assembled a team that looked to make high returns. One strategy was to invest in companies that played off the trend in outsourcing.” Greenberg rated the ad only half-true, however, because he decided that Bain was not a “pioneer of outsourcing.” Everybody was doing it. Greenberg wrote, “The Obama campaign took the word from the Washington Post but used it as its own.” Apparently Greenberg thought he should do something to show solidarity with his fact-challenged fellow fact-checkers, so he invented this objection. But the ad (a video is embedded in the linked page) makes perfectly clear to sighted people that the voiceover is quoting the Washington Post. The ad follows the standard political ad convention of putting up a screenshot of a newspaper as the voiceover announcer quotes the paper’s content. PolitiFact’s claim that the ad took the word “pioneer” “as its own” is silly. And inaccurate. I think Greenberg must know that. I wrote to him suggesting he re-evaluate the ad.
Meanwhile, the Romney campaign asked for a correction to the Globe story. Globe editor Martin Baron said no. In Saturday’s Boston Globe, Callum Borchers and Brian MacQuarrie report that Mitt Romney’s account of when he left Bain Capital “has evolved.” They pinpoint the moment of mutation and they begin with this illustration explaining why: in late October 2002, when Romney’s Democratic opponent for governor of Massachusetts ran an anti-Romney ad replicating Ted Kennedy’s line of attack in 1994, “Romney had a strong rebuttal, one that would become a bedrock of his political career for the next decade: He said he was not responsible for the struggles of the worker and his colleagues because he had left Bain Capital in February 1999, two years before the Bain-owned steel mill went bankrupt.” The Globe writers are pretty brutal:
The 2002 gubernatorial campaign, which Romney won, marked a major pivot in the narrative about his tenure at Bain Capital. From that time on, Romney, now the presumptive GOP nominee for president, began to describe Feb. 11, 1999 – the day he was named chief executive of the Salt Lake City Olympics organizing committee – as the date on which he abdicated all control over Bain Capital and its business operations.
But until his run for governor – and even before that campaign was underway in earnest, when he needed to prove sustained connections to Massachusetts in order to ward off a ballot challenge – Romney had characterized his departure from Bain Capital more as a ‘leave of absence’ in which he would be a ‘part-timer,’ and not as an absolute separation from the thriving business he built and solely owned.
Among the evidence the Globe reporters cite:
Financial disclosure forms Romney filed in Massachusetts indicate he earned at least $100,000 as a Bain ‘executive’ in 2001 and 2002, separate from investment earnings.
On July 19, 1999, a news release about the resignation of two Bain Capital managing directors describes Romney as CEO and ‘currently on a part-time leave of absence to head the Salt Lake City Olympic Committee.’
A Harvard Business School bulletin from October 1999 reported that “Romney is currently on leave as CEO of Bain Capital” and not that he had “retired” from Bain.
‘When I left my employer in Massachusetts in February of 1999 to accept the Olympic assignment,’ Romney testified before the state Ballot Law Commission on June 17, 2002, ‘I left on the basis of a leave of absence, indicating that I, by virtue of that title, would return at the end of the Olympics to my employment at Bain Capital, but subsequently decided not to do so and entered into a departure agreement with my former partners.’ Romney also testified that ‘there were a number of social trips and business trips that brought [him] back to Massachusetts, board meetings’ while he was running the Olympics. He added that he remained on the boards of several companies, including the Lifelike Co., in which Bain Capital held a stake until 2001.
Romney’s lawyer at the hearing said that Romney’s work in the private sector continued unbroken while he ran the Olympics. ‘He succeeded in that three-year period in restoring confidence in the Olympic Games, closing that disastrous deficit and staging one of the most successful Olympic Games ever to occur on US soil,’ said Peter L. Ebb from Ropes & Gray. ‘Now while all that was going on, very much in the public eye, what happened to his private and public ties to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts? And the answer is they continued unabated just as they had.’
The Globe reporters cite Ann Romney’s 2000 remarks to the Globe and other evidence from Stephanie Cutter’s letter to FactCheck.org.
Meanwhile, the Globe’s first story had inspired other reporters and bloggers to try to nail down Romney’s departure date from Bain. None of these industrious reporters works for the New York Times. A number of stories published Friday revealed details that had not yet appeared in print. (Most of them found their way into the second Globe story):
Dave Weigel of Slate, writing “What confounds me about the Bain Capital/Romney story’s current iteration is that there’s such a long, uncontested record describing Romney’s ties to the company through 2002,” cited the Boston Herald quote from February 1999, in which Romney said he would remain at Bain as a part-timer while he headed up the Olympics.
Lisa Lerer and Julie Davis of Bloomberg News wrote that “Romney is named as one of two managing members [emphasis added] of Bain Capital Investors LLC in annual reports filed in Massachusetts as late as 2002, adding a new corporate entity to a growing number of Bain-related investments and funds that list the Republican presidential candidate as controlling the company three years after he said he left it.” The Globe story cites Lerer and Davis’ report.
Jed Lewison of Daily Kos reported the July 1999 Bain press release which described Romney as on “a part-time leave of absence.”
Jason Cherkis and Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post reported on Romney’s June 2002 testimony in which he “noted that he regularly traveled to Massachusetts (from Utah) for “business trips…, board meetings …and so forth.’”
David Bernstein of the Boston Phoenix wrote that
In a controversial investment deal that led to a federal inquiry, Mitt Romney personally signed SEC documents reporting the sale of Bain Capital shares in 2000 and 2001 – during the time when he was on leave of absence to run the Salt Lake Olympic Games.” The Boston Globe reported in 2003, during the SEC investigation, that ‘Romney … signed the SEC’s necessary documents for Bain when his company – and he as an individual shareholder – sold their stakes in DDi in the fall of 2000 and in the winter and spring of 2001. SEC records indicate that Romney remained well into 2001 as a general partner in three of the four Bain funds that are involved in the DDi transactions.’” …
Bernstein thinks that “The fact that Romney signed documents for selling his own personal holdings … worth over $4 million — at the same time that he did so for Bain Capital, could raise additional questions, as it suggests that he was likely familiar enough with the deal to be making personal investment decisions.”
In a report I cited earlier in this column, Steve Benen reported on a 2002 Globe article quoting a former Bain executive who said Romney remained hands-on when he was on leave from Bain in 1994.
(David Corn never left the story. The same day the first Globe story appeared, Corn wrote, “According to government documents…, Romney, when he was in charge of Bain [in 1998], invested heavily in a Chinese manufacturing company that depended on US outsourcing for its profits – and that explicitly stated that such outsourcing was crucial to its success.” Corn also cites Romney’s related investment in a firm called Sankaty, which “was recently the focus of an Associated Press investigation that reported that Sankaty ‘is among several Romney holdings that have not been fully disclosed’ and that there is a ‘mystery surrounding’ Sankaty.’” Corn concludes, “These days, Romney rails against China for swiping American jobs and proclaims, ‘For me, it’s all about good jobs for the American people.’ But when there was money to be made by acquiring a chunk of a Chinese company that aimed to displace American manufacturers (and American workers), Romney’s patriotism did not interfere with the potential for profit.”)
How is the New York Times handling all this? They are sticking with the “he said/he said” formula which has served them so well. In Friday’s New York Times while other reporters were reporting out new details, Peter Baker wrote a story with this lede: “President Obama’s re-election slogan is ‘Forward.’ But the campaigns he and Mitt Romney are waging these days might be more accurately described as ‘Backward.’” Evidently Baker does not want to be bothered doing any research. In fact, he does not want to be bothered to look at research which the candidates – or at least Obama – have already done. Why, he doesn’t think the candidates themselves should bother researching each other’s pasts. It’s so “backward.” “At a time when the country faces an uncertain future economically and internationally,” Baker writes, “the conversation in the capital and on the campaign trail has dwelled largely on the past as the two contenders for the White House and their allies spend their time and energy relitigating old fights rather than focusing on new ideas for the next four years.” Baker’s piece is less a report than an extended whine.
Michael Shear of the Times also wrote a “Caucus” blogpost reporting that “Mitt Romney on Friday night demanded an apology from President Obama for making what he called ‘reckless’ and ‘absurd’ allegations about his record while repeating his insistence that he left Bain Capital in 1999 to run the Olympics.” (This was an update of a post Shear had written before the Romney interviews aired.) Later in the piece, Shear gets in the other half of the “he said”:
Mr. Obama on Friday added his voice to the attacks on Mr. Romney’s record at Bain Capital, telling a local news anchor in Virginia that Mr. Romney should answer lingering questions about what his role was at the firm. ‘I think most Americans figure if you are the chairman, C.E.O. and president of a company that you are responsible for what that company does,’ Mr. Obama said on WJLA, an ABC affiliate. ‘Ultimately Mr. Romney, I think, is going to have to answer those questions.’
Shear then returns to repeating some of what the indignant Mr. Romney said in his TV interviews.
For Saturday’s (July 14) New York Times print edition, Michael Shear merely massages his “he said/he said” blogpost and turns it into a slightly fuller story. Shear also reported this morning on a new Obama ad attacking Romney for holding offshore accounts. Saturday afternoon, Shear wrote a second report, which incorporates that blogpost: “President Obama barnstormed through this swing state on Saturday, relentlessly hammering away at Mitt Romney’s business record as his campaign released a mocking new ad that shows Mr. Romney singing ‘America the Beautiful’ as it accuses his former firm of shipping American jobs overseas.” Later in the report, Shear relates the Romney camp’s reaction.
In his spare time, Shear also wrote a “Caucus” post on speculation that Romney might choose former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as his running mate. Shear also participated in a “TimesCast Politics” discussion “about Mitt Romney’s counterpunch.” The fact that the Times editors assigned Shear to write at least five reports (at least two of which had multiple updates) in two days and appear in a TimesCast feed should tell you why Times reporting is so superficial. Who has time to check facts when he is simultaneously running around Virginia in the rain, reviewing TV ads, appearing in videos and reading the “Drudge Report”? Under the time constraints placed on New York Times reporters, it is hardly surprising that the best they can do is to report out who said what when.
In a “Caucus” post published Friday afternoon, Mark Landler reports on Obama’s campaign trip through Virginia. Landler adapts the “he said/he said” pattern into a “he didn’t say/she said/he said” formation, in which the reader learns that Obama said nothing about Romney and Bain in his campaign speeches, but “Jennifer Psaki, the campaign’s traveling press secretary…, suggesting that Mr. Romney might have provided false information to the Securities and Exchange Commission about his departure from the firm,” and Romney wrote an anti-Obama op-ed for the Virginian-Pilot. (In another piece published in the print edition of Saturday’s Times, Landler reports on President Obama’s campaign stops yesterday and earlier. The piece mentions Romney’s Bain termination problem, but that is not the focus of the report.) In a “Caucus” post filed Friday afternoon, Rebecca Berg reports on an interview Charlie Rose conducted with President and Mrs. Obama. In the post, Berg recounts what the President said about Romney’s Bain record and briefly reports on the Romney campaign’s reaction: all strictly “he said/he said.”
I hope I am misjudging the New York Times political reporting. I think it’s possible the Times has major investigative pieces in the works – in-depth pieces that will shed light on Mitt Romney’s secret business dealings and on his mysterious personal finances. There is plenty of time for the paper of record to set the record straight. But in the meantime, the New York Times has let a big story escape – a story in which the Obama campaign had already provided a possible framework as well as leads to source material. By presenting the story as nothing more than a “he said/he said” political game, by refraining from exploring Romney’s serial and substantial inconsistencies about his tenure at Bain, and by failing to expose how Romney’s story “evolved” as a political expediency, the New York Times has let its readers down and has let Mitt Romney get away with maintaining a self-serving – and false – narrative.
Update. Monday, July 16, 7:30 am ET: In today’s New York Times, Nicholas Confessore and Michael Shear look at the evidence for and against Romney’s claim that he “left Bain” in February 1999. The Times editors also have written on the issue in today’s paper: “After three days of Mitt Romney complaining about attacks on his record at Bain Capital, it’s clear that President Obama has nothing to apologize for. If Mr. Romney doesn’t want to provide real answers to the questions about his career, he had better develop a thicker skin. And Paul Krugman has an op-ed in today’s Times explaining why Romney’s handling of his personal finances — then and now — is important.
Marie Burns blogs at RealityChex.com