We don’t think the press corps will go there: What did Mitt Romney do at Bain? And when did Mitt Romney do it?
Within the mainstream press, very few major players seem inclined to examine this topic. On MSNBC, Ed Schultz made three attempts last week to explain Reuters’ detailed report about Bain’s behavior in the case of two steel mills, including one in Kansas City. Once again, here’s part of the exchange between Schultz and David Cay Johnston on last Thursday’s program:
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.The Reuters report described horrible conduct. But aside from Schultz and Amy Goodman, we haven’t seen anyone try to discuss it. It’s easier to piddle around with less threatening topics concerning the number of jobs Bain and Romney may have “created.” For craftier players, those topics can create the impression that Romney’s record is being examined—while the “journalist” gets to stick to topics which won’t make her seem shrill.
How’s that for treating the workers good?
The remaining benefits, by the way, were paid by the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, a pension protection agency in the United States government.
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 guarantee 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.
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 Guarantee 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.
Schultz was discussing a Reuters report. That report had nothing to do with the 29-minute film the Gingrich super-PAC has been promoting; the conduct described by Reuters isn’t discussed in the film. But last Friday, the Washington Post fact-checked the film—and gave it its lowest rating.
Yesterday, the fact-check appeared in the hard-copy Post. To review that report, just click here.
Gingrich started backing away from the film when this fact-check appeared. Trust us: On this basis, journalists will be less inclined to examine this general topic. With that in mind, we were struck by this part of Glenn Kessler’s fact-check:
KESSLER (1/15/12): The 29-minute video “King of Bain” is such an over-the-top assault on former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney that it is hard to know where to begin. It uses evocative footage from distraught middle-class Americans who allege that Romney’s deal-making is responsible for their woes. It mixes images of closed factories and shuttered shops with video clips of Romney making him look foolish, vain or greedy. And it has a sneering voice-over that seeks to push every anti-Wall Street button possible.Kessler describes the video as “an over-the-top assault.” He goes on to detail the ways the video gets various facts wrong. Kessler is right to detail those errors, but in some ways, this begs the basic question:
Here’s just a sampling of what Romney and Bain Capital, which he once headed, is accused of: “Stripping American businesses of assets, selling everything to the highest bidder and often killing jobs for big financial rewards . . . high disdain for American businesses and workers . . . upended the company and dismantled the work force; now they were able to make a handsome profit . . . cash rampage . . . contributing to the greatest American job loss since World War II . . . turn the misfortune of others into their own enormous financial gain.”
The video ends with a crescendo of images of despair, with voices of the victims adding emotional punch: “A lot of lives were ruined . . . he took away our livelihoods . . . he took away our future . . . he destroyed a lot of homes . . . it all gets back to greed.” (Irritatingly, few of these ordinary citizens are identified.)
Is it true? Did Romney and Bain “strip American businesses of assets, selling everything to the highest bidder and often killing jobs for big financial rewards?” Did they show “high disdain for American businesses and workers?”
Journalists didn’t seem inclined to examine those questions even before Kessler's fact-check. We’ll guess that they will be less inclined to do so now. Luckily, we have Rachel Maddow to help us see what was wrong with the way Mitt Romney once treated his dog! This helps liberals learn to adore Rachel more—while she avoids seeming shrill in the eyes of the industry which fills her own deep pockets.
What did Romney do at Bain? We’ll be watching The One True Liberal Channel to see if anyone goes there other than Schultz. Meanwhile, several people let us know that we ourselves misstated one part of this matter. The Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (see Schultz, above) is part of the federal government, but it isn’t funded by “the taxpayers,” as we said last week. (Schultz also repeatedly made that statement.) We don’t entirely understand how such entities work, but the PBCG “is financed with insurance premiums levied on defined benefit pension plans, not appropriations of tax dollars,” as one reader who knows whereof he speaks told us by e-mail.
In our view, Bain’s behavior in this case does fit the description Kessler called “over-the-top.” In this case, Bain did strip a business of its assets, killing jobs for big financial rewards. It robbed the workers of part of their pension and of their health coverage. Having under-funded this company’s pension, it forced the federal government to step in to replenish part of the funds.
Johnston, who knows what he’s talking about, said this about that: “I think the pension guarantee issue is one that will cause [Romney] a lot of problems, and a lot of explaining is necessary about why the government had to step in in this area.”
Maybe. Almost surely, this won’t cause Romney any problems unless it’s explained by major journalists in ways the public can understand. Just a guess: Unless the liberal world somehow makes them, our journalists won’t be inclined to go there. Rachel will talk about Romney’s dog—and that very bad conduct by Bain will go undiscussed, unexplained.
We’ll learn to love Rachel, and we’ll get dumber. Romney will slip away.