If you, like me, were wondering whether the Romney/Bain story was getting play outside the left-hand side of the media spectrum, you might have gone over to CNN yesterday and read an article by John King, CNN Chief National Correspondent and general Steve Kroft-wannabe. Depressing, huh?
King's reporting, which was widely circulated under the title "When Romney left Bain: Here are the facts" (now under the banner "John King: Why is 1999 so important in 2012?") is a piece that attempts to whitewash Romney by incorrectly defining the issue as being whether Romney was in Massachusetts from 1999-2001, and then quoting a bunch of former Bain insiders (he keep repeating that some are Democrats!) saying Romney was not in Massachusetts at the time. But he paints this as a definitive debunking of the story.
And then I realized every story on CNN must accept as an article of faith that Romney is a viable candidate. If you follow me below the fold, you will see that the "fact-checking" on this story only makes sense if you assume that the for-profit media needs the election to be a close one for financial reasons. They need it to be a horserace because they are the ones who own the concession stands at the racetrack.
CNN (and its parent company Time Warner) stand to lose huge sums if Obama KO's Romney in the first round, both in terms of viewership and political ad revenues. PQ Media forecasts that "political media spending will hit $5.6 billion during the 2012 election," a 35 percent jump from the last presidential election in 2008. The watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Media reports that Time Warner had a huge bump from the midterm elections:
Media giant Time Warner--owner of cable channels like CNN, TNT and TBS--saw profits rise by more than one-third in the quarter, in part due to a 23 percent increase in ad revenue (CNET, 11/4/10).Political advertising revenue isn't the only motive for media giants like Time Warner, the perception that there is competitive race also affects stock prices. On April 14, 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported that the current presidential election has boosted stock values of CBS:
The stock closed Friday at $32.50 a share, an eye-popping increase over the $4 a share that it was trading for in 2009, following the market collapse. Investors have bid up the stock, in part, due to the anticipation that CBS will rake in hundreds of millions of dollars in political advertising this year as candidates and political action committees try to influence the outcome of elections.If it isn't a competitive race, who is going to contribute to the PACs? Who is going to bid up CBS and Time Warner stock?
In light of this profit motive, it really isn't surprising that the response to this story is not a Woodward-and-Bernstein era "we might bring down a criminal" but rather a Murdoch-and-Hiatt era "we might affect the revenue stream".
Between the lines, John King is saying, "It can't be as bad as it sounds because then it wouldn't be a horserace..." Why else would CNN boil down Romney's multiple lies to a deceptive premise like: "Is there anything other than the SEC filings to suggest a hands-on Romney role at Bain post-February 1999?" This ignores Romney's changing his tax residency from Utah to Massachusetts during this period in order to qualify to run for governor in Massachusetts. It ignores the fact that he has sworn not just that he didn't have a hands-on role but that he had not "'been involved in the operations' of Bain" during that period.
In fact, Factcheck and WaPo have basically said this explicitly: it can't be true because if it were true Romney would have committed a felony, etc. The original Factcheck piece says:
The Obama complaint claims we erred in saying Mitt Romney gave up active management of Bain Capital in early 1999 to run the 2002 Winter Olympics, insisting we were then wrong in saying Romney was not responsible for shipping U.S. jobs overseas.That's the argument. It can't be true because then Romney committed a felony. And, you ask, why can't he have? Because, impies Factcheck, that would violate the rules of the game. We need two viable candidates. Because need the revenue.
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.
Just for chuckles, I wanted to cite Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post, making a similar non-argument argument. He tries to dismiss the SEC (that's State Election Commission, not Securities and Exchange Commission, by the way) documents by claiming they are based on a "typo":
The one thing new we saw in the Globe story was the assertion that “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.” But then we realized we had already reviewed those documents in January. The 2001 form describes him as a “former executive” (see page 1 of form A-5) — the campaign says this was retirement pay — but the 2002 form says “executive.” So either you believe he suddenly rejoined the firm, after leaving it, or someone made a typo.First of all, the obvious question is how do we know "executive" is a typo for "former executive"? Isn't it just as possible that the words "former" is the mistake? But second, it is pretty clear that whether he is an executive is something that can be tested, by whether he is paid, by what his IRS forms say, etc. And the very same 2001 form says he got over $100,000 that year from Bain LLC and over $100,000 from Bain Inc. for being a "former executive" (in addition to the same amount from three Bain shell companies in the Caymans). So, in fact, it would seem to me that the presumption would be that he wasn't a "former executive" at all during this period, unless one can find a note somewhere that those payments are anything besides salary. And today's diary by 8ackgr0und N015e makes it pretty clear he was doing something for that money. (Aside: If all this does actually begin to damage Romney, expect the same sources to immediately switch over to: who will replace Romney at the Republican National Convention, because that would make it a horserace again).
For CNN's King, of course, there are probably other reasons to resist the obvious conclusion that Romney will say anything to get what he wants, and is caught out so often because he thinks short-term and what he wants keep changing and so he has to keep flip-flopping. Besides King's CNN stock value, I'm sure that he also hopes to catch some of the reflected glory of the presidential race, and can't stand the idea that the top race might turn into a cakewalk. But what's true of John King is also true of pretty much every political reporter that works for the big media conglomerates. So, like a corrupt referee, don't expect CNN or the for-profit media to acknowledge even an obvious foul by Romney. It just isn't in their interest.