After the worst savaging of an American by the British press since Jerry Lee Lewis brought his teenage wife/cousin to London, Mitt Romney decided his problem wasn’t that he was saying inane things. The problem was that people were writing them down.
So for its fundraiser Monday at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, Mitt’s team decided to break the precedent of allowing reporters into any fundraiser not held in a private residence. Reporters, many of whom had travelled 9,000 miles, were going to have to find something else to do as Romney mingled with donors holding US passports.
Expressions of outrage came swift and sharp. Reporters mocked the Romney campaign’s transparency and quickly assumed that he was going to say something so controversial that the backlash would be worse than the bad press from locking the press out. “If you were going to plan your war with Iran, would you want reporters there?” I wondered aloud.
For a campaign eager to shake the stink of gaffes, it was another misstep that threatened to foul the remainder of the trip. Sensing that they were a losing a press corps that already smelled blood after a weekend of #RomneyShambles, Mitt’s campaign quickly reversed itself and announced that reporters would be allowed to attend.
Apparently Mitt realized that there was nothing he could say in private worse than what he said in London. Nor could anything be more controversial than what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said with Romney standing at his side.
Interjecting himself into the American election in an unprecedented way, Netanyahu made the claim that the sanctions supported by President Obama hadn’t stopped Iran from pursuing a nuclear bomb “one iota.” (This claim was immediately rejected by Joe Cirincione, President of Ploughshares Fund, who tweeted: “Bibi is flat out wrong. Iran’s program has been slowed, limited, and in the case of the missile program, blocked.”)
So eager was Romney to get his London gaffe spree out of the headlines that he was even willing to talk about his tax returns. ABC’s David Muir asked him whether there was any year when he paid a tax rate lower than the incredibly low (for his income) 13.99 percent. Mitt said that he’d have to go back and look.
This was a staggering admission from Mitt for two reasons: He acknowledged that voters have the right to know about his tax rate and that it is something he can easily check.
Of course, Muir didn’t follow up with the next logical question, “Why not just release all your returns since you began running for president in 2006?”
Why does the press treat Mitt with such kid gloves? Don’t reporters covering Romney get it? Why do they think they were allowed into Mitt’s secret fundraiser? He needs the press just as much or more than the press needs him.
Forget that a majority of voters believe Romney should release more tax returns. Forget that Romney’s own father Governor George Romney set the standard for releasing a dozen years of returns during his presidential run in 1968. Mitt Romney himself made his taxes an issue when he released a return that did not completely account for his assets.
Romney’s secrecy is unprecedented for a presidential candidate. He won’t release the names of his secret bundlers who are raising millions for his campaign. He won’t release the tax deductions he’d eliminate to pay for his huge new tax breaks. He won’t release the departments of government he’d like to eliminate. He won’t ask Bain Capital to release records that would validate his job creation claims or clarify when he actually left the company.
All this echoes the unprecedented secrecy concerning his finances and records as governor and during his stint at the 2002 Winter Olympics. You have to wonder whether Mitt has a deal with mirrors to to show him only from good angles.
The press corps proved last weekend that journalists have the power to make Mitt give in to their demands. Unfortunately it seems they will only use that power when he gets in the way of something they want. The American people are stuck trying to get their own answers. Because unlike an angry press, Mitt Romney doesn’t feel that he ever has to answer to us.