Editorial writers inclined to side with Mitt Romney on the issues of the day face a bind when it comes to the tax-return issue. This is all about transparency — documents. Newspapers risk a fight with karma if they argue against disclosure, especially considering they spend great sums of money pushing the government and corporations to let go of information.
That spirit of openness inspires the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to write:
If Mr. Romney can produce documents from Bain that show clearly when he left the company, he should do so. If he can’t or won’t, he has no reason to complain.
Mr. Romney makes further problems for himself by refusing to release federal income tax returns. He has disclosed his 2010 return and pledges to do the same for 2011. But he refuses to release returns for previous years, including when he was CEO of Bain.
That is less disclosure than most recent presidential nominees have made.
And the Asbury Park Press to write:
Does presidential candidate Mitt Romney have something to hide about his finances? If not, why won’t he release more than just the past two years of his tax returns?
There is no evidence to suggest he has done anything wrong. But his lack of transparency here could drive his most ardent supporters to wonder.
When Romney’s father, George, was seeking the Republican Party nomination for president nearly a half-century ago, he released 12 years of returns so that voters could see for themselves that he had nothing to hide. Mitt Romney should follow his example.
An The Washington Post to write:
The modern presidency demands so much of one individual — decisions of immense complexity, consequence and difficulty — that the candidates’ characters must be thoroughly examined.
The exploratory process is often unpleasant for candidates, especially when it is stimulated or exploited by their opponents. But it is essential for voters. The probing and investigating is a chance to examine all the ups and downs of a career, the critical moments and life experiences that might foretell how a president will make decisions.
This is why, as we said months ago, Mitt Romney’s tax returns are important.
And the New York Times to write:
Mr. Romney is tarnishing an important political tradition — one set by his father, George Romney, who released 12 years of tax returns in 1967 — by continuing to keep the sources of his income in the shadows.
[H]e’s a politician running for the highest office in the land, and his current posture is probably unsustainable. In all likelihood, he won’t be able to maintain a position that looks secretive and is a departure from campaign conventions.
A conflicting sensibility underlies the position of the Investor’s Business Daily, which has issued an editorial boldly titled “Why Romney Should Resist Tax Return Pressure.” Whereas other opinionists cite the presidential campaign disclosure conventions mentioned by National Review Online, Investor’s Business Daily says, in effect, What are you talking about? Have a look:
Other presidential hopefuls have released more, but there’s no august tradition here that every candidate must follow.
Whereas other opinionists point to George Romney’s massive tax-document dump, Investor’s Business Daily doesn’t mention Mitt Romney’s father and instead cites a different Republican patriarch:
Romney has released his return for 2010 and will release his 2011 return when it’s complete. That makes two — one more than Ronald Reagan released when he was a presidential nominee.
And whereas other opinionists stick to diagrammable logic, the Investor’s Business Daily goes with this:
Bob Dole, running for the GOP nomination in 1996, may have set some kind of record by releasing 30 years of tax returns to squeeze something out of multimillionaire Steve Forbes. Forbes didn’t release even one. Forbes didn’t win, of course, but it’s a stretch to think that the tax return issue is what sank his campaign.
The real problem for the anti-disclosure editorial writer, however, isn’t finding an example of a candidate who was as stingy as Romney or finessing the clear public-interest imperatives behind disclosure. It’s something altogether different: Arguing that Romney shouldn’t release tax returns verily entails suggesting that the candidate is a weakling, a guy who can’t withstand whatever attacks may spring from the documents. It also entails alleging something of a media conspiracy. Here’s how the Investor’s Business Daily handles that double order:
We can just imagine Romney releasing 10 years of returns followed by a front-page headline in the New York Times declaring “Candidate’s Returns Raise New Questions.”
Romney is getting some well-meaning advice that he release more returns and then, as the National Review puts it, “respond to any attacks they bring, and move on.” Trouble is, the Obama campaign would not let him move on.
Instead, they’d give him new hoops to jump through. They’d like nothing more than have this campaign turn into an audit of Mitt Romney’s finances rather than an unblinkered assessment of the Obama record.
The Erik Wemple Blog requested an interview with Investor’s Business Daily but didn’t get a call back. So we passed along these questions:
1) Many papers have editorialized in favor of more openness on this tax-return controversy, which appears to be a natural position for a newspaper. Did you folks consider the dynamic of having your paper calling for less transparency?
2) The editorial suggests that the opposition would seize on all the resulting documents. Is that a suggestion that Romney wouldn’t be able to fight back, or just that the media would hop on the story and never get off?
3) Has IBD ever before argued for the non-disclosure of information in a high-profile controversy?
Editor Wes Mann sent along this very fun note:
We don’t have the time to respond to leading questions such as these. The editorial speaks for itself. Thanks for your interest, however.