It took NBC News nearly a week to mention Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's sleazy and unfounded charge that Mitt Romney failed to pay taxes, with chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd declaring on Nightly News Tuesday: "Reid has just as doggedly refused to divulge his source or back up his claim with documentation. And the White House has stood aside, letting the poisoned atmosphere fester."
By waiting five days to get around to the Democratic mud-slinging, NBC was able to diffuse the low-ball tactics as just another part of a contentious campaign season, with anchor Brian Williams announcing: "Also, getting personal in the race for president. Tonight what the candidates are now calling each other....the dialogue has become a bit less than presidential in the past few days."
Todd began his report: "It's been a bare-knuckle campaign, and now the candidates themselves are getting into the act." After playing a clip of Obama accusing Romney of "Robin Hood in reverse...Romney-hood" and Romney dismissing that charge as "Obama-loney," Todd cited a new Romney ad about the Obama administration gutting Welfare reform as more evidence of the nasty tone: "This new ad from the Romney campaign...prompted a heated response today from the White House."
However, Todd completely skipped a vicious ad from pro-Obama Super-PAC Priorities USA, that essentially accused Romney of causing a woman's death after her husband was laid off from a Bain-Capital-owned company. On Tuesday, CNN's Wolf Blitzer characterized the outrageous smear as being "full of falsehoods," as correspondent Brianna Keilar completely dismantled the attack.
The media have routinely pushed the narrative of Republicans using underhanded tactics to win presidential races, from going after George H.W. Bush for the Willie Horton ad in the 1988 campaign to inventing the term "swift-boating" to demean what they saw as unfair criticism of John Kerry in 2004.
So when will the press start pushing the same story line about the Obama campaign in 2012?
Here is a full transcript of Todd's August 7 report:
7:00PM ET TEASE:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Also, getting personal in the race for president. Tonight what the candidates are now calling each other and how close is Mitt Romney to picking a running mate?
7:09PM ET SEGMENT:
WILLIAMS: Now to the campaign trail, where the dialogue has become a bit less than presidential in the past few days. The story from our NBC News political director and Chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd.
CHUCK TODD: It's been a bare-knuckle campaign, and now the candidates themselves are getting into the act. President Obama last night in Connecticut:
BARACK OBAMA: It's like Robin Hood in reverse. It's Romney-hood.
[LAUGHTER AND CHEERS]
TODD: Mitt Romney today with some name-calling of his own.
MITT ROMNEY: We've been watching the President say a lot of things about me and about my policies. And they're just not right. And if I were to coin a term it would be Obama-loney.
TODD: And there's more. This new ad from the Romney campaign...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN [NARRATOR]: Under Obama's plan you wouldn't have to work and wouldn't have to train for a job. They just send you your Welfare check.
TODD: ...prompted a heated response today from the White House.
JAY CARNEY [PRESS SECRETARY, WHITE HOUSE]: Let me say that this advertisement is categorically false and it is blatantly dishonest.
TODD: Things first began to reel out of control last week, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid actually went on to the floor of the U.S. Senate to claim an unnamed source had told him Romney didn't pay taxes for ten years while at Bain Capital.
HARRY REID: The word's out that he hasn't paid any taxes for ten years. Let him prove that he has paid taxes, because he hasn't.
TODD: Romney has called Reid out repeatedly, most recently just today.
ROMNEY: The message I gave Harry Reid was put up or shut up. I don't really believe that he's got any kind of a credible source.
TODD: But Reid has just as doggedly refused to divulge his source or back up his claim with documentation. And the White House has stood aside, letting the poisoned atmosphere fester.
CARNEY: I think the dispute here is between the Romney campaign and Harry Reid. And Senator Reid is, you know, doesn't take direction. He speaks for himself.
TODD: And even the vice presidential speculation seemed to jump the rails today, with this rumor from the Drudge Report that Romney wants to name General David Petraeus as his running mate. Well, late this afternoon the CIA Director General Petraeus declared he's not a candidate. The reality, Brian, the real short list appears to be down to three, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, and Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, who, Brian, may actually be higher on this list than Washington insiders realize.
WILLIAMS: We can at least say we'll know in a matter of days. Chuck Todd in our D.C. newsroom tonight. Chuck, thanks.