Romney Campaign Puts the Screws to The Washington Post

Campaign professionals tend to believe that the most potent attacks use your opponent's own words against him, preferably if they're on video and can be replayed over and over. If you don't have that, it helps to have third-party validation of your attack from the most credible, non-partisan source you can find. Which is why it's so helpful when an established news organization reports something damaging about your opponent, which you can then talk about and put in your ads. If the third-party source is credible enough, you won't have to argue about whether the allegation is true, but merely about what it means and how much it matters.

Which is why the Obama campaign was so pleased when The Washington Post reported that under Mitt Romney (and after he departed), Bain Capital invested in a number of companies that specialized in helping other companies outsource work to foreign countries. Not only was this new information that could be used to attack Romney, but it had the imprimatur of the Post. Within days, the story was showing up in the president's speeches and the campaign's ads. So the Romney campaign is doing what it can to wind back the clock on the story:

Mitt Romney campaign representatives will meet with The Washington Post today to seek a formal retraction of its June 21 report that Bain Capital invested in firms that specialized in outsourcing American jobs, POLITICO has learned.

The representatives will meet with executive editor Marcus Brauchli and other senior Post staff at 2 p.m. today at the Post's offices in Washington.

The group intends to argue that the Post's allegations against Bain Capital and the firms in question are either incomplete or inaccurate, sources familiar with the meeting say. Specifically, the group will argue that the Post misinterpreted the SEC filings it examined for its report and failed to adequately account for the support these firms gave to U.S. exports or U.S. businesses through foreign hiring. The campaign raised similar objections to the story prior to its publication.

We often talk about how vigorously Republicans "work the refs," crying about bias and unfair coverage whether it actually exists or not, and this is a great example. Even if they can't persuade the Post that its report was inaccurate and win the retraction they're seeking, the pressure they put on it might make other publications think a little harder about what they investigate and how they report what they learn.

That isn't to say they don't have a case to make. Maybe the report was inaccurate. But we don't yet know, because the Romney campaign, true to form, hasn't been specific about what it actually objects to in the Post report. If it turns out that Bain never invested in these companies, or these companies don't actually do what the Post say they do, then by all means they should retract the story. But if the Romney campaign's case is only that these companies do good things, too, then that's miles away from anything that would justify a retraction.

If there isn't a real smoking gun of something grossly inaccurate, I'd be very surprised if the Post assented to the Romney campaign's demands. They're a big, established news organization that sees standing up to the powerful as part of their identity (how much they actually do it is something we could debate; my quick take is that their news operation is full of terrific reporters who do invaluable work exposing the workings of government, while their editorial page is another story). At moments like this, editors tend to get appropriately high-minded, just as we'd hope they would. A smaller paper that doesn't see itself as a vital institution of American democracy would be much more likely to submit to pressure. I could be wrong, but I doubt the Post will cave.

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