Part 1—Romney’s bad conduct: Is Mitt Romney a sociopath?
It’s certainly possible! A certain percentage of adults are; we’ll guess that some of them hold high office. Then too, there’s the way the gent behaved when he was running Bain Capital.
On January 6 of this year, Reuters published a lengthy report about Romney’s conduct at Bain. Six nights later, Ed Schultz discussed the matter with David Cay Johnston, the Pulitzer-winning journalist who is now a professor.
(Who the heck is Reuters? See below.)
Johnston is a rarity among cable guests; he actually knows what he’s talking about, and he care about things that matter. Here are the highlights of his discussion with Schultz:
SCHULTZ (1/12/12): In 1993, Bain Capital became the majority shareholder of a Kansas City steel mill. Now according to Reuters, less than a decade later, the mill was padlocked and some 750 people lost their jobs. Workers were denied the severance pay and health care insurance that they had been promised. And their pension benefits were cut by as much as $400 a month.Bain underfunded the workers’ pension fund, then “fobbed [the problem] off on the Pension Benefit Guaranty program.” In the process, Romney and Bain walked away with extremely large profits. Workers got cheated out of a substantial portion of their retirement benefits—benefits they had bargained for.
How’s that for treating the workers good?
The remaining [reduced] benefits, by the way, were paid by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, a pension protection agency in the United States government.
SCHULTZ: Did Bain profit from reducing pensions?
JOHNSTON: Oh, there’s no question that they were able, in the particular case that was mentioned involving the steel mill, to take money out of this company, it didn’t have a properly funded pension, and fob it off on the Pension Benefit Guaranty program, is clearly an important part of this story. There are other parts of it that have not come out yet with other companies, where they made changes to the benefit programs for workers.
The federally-administered Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBCG) had to bail out this company’s pension fund, which Bain had essentially looted. (This did not restore the full pension to which the workers were entitled. And the health care was gone.) In his discussion with Schultz, this was Johnston’s first remark concerning this conduct:
JOHNSTON: The record on Romney is somewhat mixed. There are companies that they essentially bought, sucked all the cash out of them, and then left behind. And I think the pension guaranty issue is one that will cause him a lot of problems. And a lot of explaining is necessary about why the government had to step in in this area.“I think the pension guaranty issue is one that will cause him a lot of problems,” Johnston said. “And a lot of explaining is necessary about why the government had to step in in this area.”
Johnston’s remarks made perfect sense—but in the end, it seems that Johnston was wrong about the potential political costs. Consider the way the Washington Post reacted in the aftermath of that detailed report by Reuters:
The Washington Post wrote next to nothing about the looting of GS Industries. On January 11, an editorial included a fleeting reference to GS. In its news reporting, the Post has virtually never referred to GS at all.
Right to this day, we can find no sign that the Washington Post has ever mentioned the way the PBCG had to cover for Romney. (Using Nexis, we searched on such terms as “Pension Benefit” and “PBGC.”)
Reuters devoted thousands of words to Romney’s conduct with respect to GS. Johnston said “a lot of explaining is necessary about why the government had to step in in this area.”
But for readers of the Washington Post, this conduct never occurred. If you read the Washington Post each day, you’ve never heard about it.
To fate, the Washington Post has taken a total pass on the looting of GS. Now consider what the Post did on the front page of last Friday’s paper.
The paper published a 5400-word report about Romney’s experiences in high school. The report appeared at the top of the front page, accompanied by three photos. Inside the paper, the continuation of the report consumed two entire pages. Three more photos appeared.
This report was built around the claim that Romney behaved quite badly on several occasions during his high school years. Jason Horowitz wrote the report. Here’s how it began:
HOROWITZ (5/11/12): Mitt Romney returned from a three-week spring break in 1965 to resume his studies as a high school senior at the prestigious Cranbrook School. Back on the handsome campus, studded with Tudor brick buildings and manicured fields, he spotted something he thought did not belong at a school where the boys wore ties and carried briefcases. John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn't having it.Assuming the Post’s basic reporting is accurate, Romney behaved extremely badly this day. In the past five days, liberal comments threads have rung with the charge that this incident—and Romney’s reaction to the Post’s report—show that he’s a socio.
"He can't look like that. That's wrong. Just look at him!" an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann's recollection. Mitt, the teenage son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber's look, Friedemann recalled.
A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school's collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber's hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.
Is Romney a sociopath? It’s certainly possible! But then too, how about the editors of the Washington Post? The paper devoted massive resources to this incident, engaging in apparent journalistic malpractice as they did. (We refer to the highlighted claim in the passage above. More on this matter tomorrow.)
But the Post has completely failed to report on that unfortunate conduct at Bain, the conduct Johnston mistakenly thought would create a political problem.
Was John Lauber “perpetually teased for his presumed homosexuality?” Given 5400 words, Solomon presents no evidence in support of this statement—zero; none—but he led his report with this claim. We liberals have reacted in predictable ways, discussing Romney’s presumed homophobia—and his possible sociopathy.
Lauber should not have been treated that way, assuming the Post’s reporting is accurate. But what about the many people whose pensions got looted by Romney and Bain? The Post has taken a total pass on that particular bit of behavior. For the most part, so did the children at MSNBC, even as they stuffed their own pockets with cash—the cash they gain from pandering to The Way We Actually Are.
Can we talk? In many respects, The Way We Are is extremely unimpressive. As a people, we’re intellectually stunted. Increasingly, we liberals make this fact clear in our comment threads, as conservatives have done, for the past three decades, in phone calls to radio programs.
At one time, journalistic norms protected us from this shortcoming. Now, just as Romney sucked on GS, brilliant hustlers all over the press corps suck on this part of our nature.
Tomorrow: Don’t need no stinking evidence
Reuters got it right about Lincoln: Who the heck is Reuters? It’s an international news agency headquartered in London—England, not Ohio!
According to Wikipedia, Reuters has been getting it right for a very long time:
WIKIPEDIA: Over the years Reuters' agency has built a reputation in Europe and the rest of the world as the first to report news scoops from abroad. Reuters was the first to report Abraham Lincoln’s assassination among other major stories. Almost every major news outlet in the world currently subscribes to Reuters. Reuters operates in more than 200 cities in 94 countries in about 20 languages.Same old story! Everyone subscribes to Reuters—and no one discusses what they report!
Did Reuters get it right about Bain? More on that as the week continues.