On Wednesday's NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams touted how "plans for Mitt Romney's home near San Diego include a four-car garage and a car elevator for each of the cars," and that "his opponents and Democrats will no doubt have at it." Later, on NBC's Rock Center, Williams announced: "So where does tonight's story come from? NBC News can confirm it came directly from the opposition research of a rival candidate." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
Introducing a Rock Center report by correspondent Willie Geist on political opposition research, Williams proclaimed the Romney story was "only going to add to an image problem that includes Swiss bank accounts and, as he put it famously, 'a couple of Cadillacs.'"
In the piece, Geist spoke to Rodell Mollineau, president of the Democratic Super-PAC American Bridge 21st Century, and explained how the group would stalk the GOP frontrunner: "The most effective way to slam a candidate is to hang him with his own words....And capturing those words in the field is the job of the video tracker....For the better part of this primary season, they've been aiming their cameras at Mitt Romney."
Geist teed up Mollineau to brag about catching Romney gaffes: "Did a tracker ever send you a clip where you got it in house and you said, 'We have just struck gold, this is going to change a race'?" Mollineau replied: "When Mitt Romney was at the Iowa state fair and he uttered those words that I think will come back to haunt him throughout this election, that 'corporations are people.'"
Geist then detailed the step-by-step process by which the left-wing group turned another Romney remark into an attack ad and spoon-fed it to the media:
GEIST: In addition to using oppo research to make ads that slam an opponent, it's standard practice to toss a story onto the web and watch the mainstream media run with it.
How do we go from candidate A saying something at a doughnut shop in Iowa at 9:00 in the morning, to having it on The Daily Show that night? Walk me through how you get there.
MOLLINEAU: Mitt Romney is the gift that keeps on giving.
ROMNEY: Beautiful backdrop, huh?
GEIST: Traveling in South Carolina in January, Romney was answering questions about his taxes when he made a casual aside about income he'd made from speakers fees.
ROMNEY: And then I get speakers fees from time to time but not very much.
GEIST: American Bridge did the quick math and saw that Romney's "not very much" added up to nearly $375,000.
ROMNEY [IN DEMOCRATIC AD]: Not very much.
GEIST: It was posted to the group's website and then tweeted out to the world. The next morning it showed up on more than 130 newscasts.
JOE SCARBOROUGH: To have Mitt Romney dismiss a $360,000 chunk...
ANDREA MITCHELL: It wasn't that much.
GIEST: And that night, it ended up on The Daily Show.
JON STEWART: $375,000, thousand, in speaking fees in one 12-month period. Most Americans would think that is a lot of money.
Following the report, Geist declared to Williams: "The story about Mitt Romney and the car elevator is a perfect example of what we're talking about here. It came to Politico, as you pointed out in your lead-in. A source close to NBC tells us it did come from the Democratic side. Was leaked to Politico, went up this morning. You will undoubtedly see it on The Daily Show tonight."
In other words, NBC News is doing exactly what the Obama re-election team wants them to do.
Geist concluded: "And what it does is fit into a narrative. And we saw that in the piece, what oppo research tries to do is build a story, try to define a candidate. And they've done that with Mitt Romney, with a little help from him, by the way, from things that he's said on the campaign trail." Not to mention "a little help" from the so-called journalists at NBC.
Geist did also briefly talk to Jonathan Collegio, director of communications for the Republican super-PAC Crossroads GPS. However, unlike with Mollineau, Geist didn't ask Collegio to detail the process of creating an ad against President Obama. Instead, Geist only mentioned ads against Democrats in past elections and none against Obama. The majority of the time with Collegio was devoted to an ad run against Montana senate candidate Mike Taylor in 2002.
On its website, American Bridge 21st proudly touted the Rock Center story as "Our Network Debut" and encouraged visitors to "Watch the Video."