As I wrote yesterday, the short film “King of Bain: When Mitt Romney Came to Town,” which presidential candidate Newt Gingrich touted as a devastating blow against his rival during the second New Hampshire debate, was officially released this week.
Bloomberg News fact-checked “King of Bain,” and was not pleased with the results. Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s fact checker, was even less pleased, dishing out his dreaded “Four Pinocchio” rating. He’s suspicious of Romney’s claims that he created a hundred thousand jobs during his tenure at Bain, but concludes:
Romney may have opened the door to this kind of attack with his suspect job-creation claims, but that is no excuse for this highly misleading portrayal of Romney’s years at Bain Capital. Only one of the four case studies directly involves Romney and his decision-making, while at least two are completely off point. The manipulative way the interviews appeared to have been gathered for the UniMac segment alone discredits the entire film.
(Emphasis mine.) Prompted by these melancholy fact-checking expeditions, Matt Lewis at the Daily Caller reports that Newt Gingrich issued a statement calling for “King of Bain” to be edited or withdrawn, and asking Romney to take a similar stance against his own Super PAC supporters:
I am calling for the Winning Our Future Super-PAC supporting me to either edit its “King of Bain” advertisement to remove its inaccuracies, or to pull it off the air entirely.
Furthermore, I am once again calling on Governor Romney to issue a similar call for the Super-PAC supporting him to edit or remove its ads which have been shown to contain gross inaccuracies, something the Governor has thus far refused to do.
Gingrich did clearly state during the New Hampshire debate that “when the 27 and a half minute movie comes out, I hope it’s accurate. I can say publicly I hope that the Super PAC runs an accurate movie about Bain… I hope it’s totally accurate, and then people can watch the 27 and a half minutes of his career at Bain and decide for themselves.”
Direct coordination between candidates and Super PACs is forbidden, so this kind of public denunciation is the only way Gingrich can communicate with Winning Our Future. Technically, even this might be going too far, although he does clearly state the reasons for his criticism of their efforts – Gingrich is obviously not trying to issue some sort of coded directive to get around campaign finance laws. It would be comically Orwellian to forbid the candidates from mentioning or discussing allied Super PACs at all, even when they do things the candidates strenuously disagree with.
Perhaps both Gingrich and Winning Our Future should have a few words with the actual creator of “King of Bain,” Jason Killian Meath. For the producer of what was upsold as the most explosive political film of the year, he’s surprisingly media shy – every story about his involvement with “King of Bain” mentions that he refuses to answer questions about it, instead referring reporters to the Winning Our Future Super PAC.
Meath is apparently a former associate of some top Romney strategists, and created ads for Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign, who for some reason has decided that he now dislikes Romney enough to crank out Michael Moore-style agitprop against him. Assuming this is the website for the very same Jason Killian Meath, he doesn’t seem like a habitually sloppy writer or filmmaker.
The New York Times describes Meath as working on commission for the producer and mastermind of “King of Bain”:
The film’s producer, Barry Bennett, a former consultant to a super PAC that supports Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, said he came up with the idea himself.
Mr. Bennett said he had bought an “opposition research book” on Mr. Romney compiled by the staff of a Republican rival during the 2008 campaign and had found its contents “stunning.”
“David Axelrod,” he said, referring to Mr. Obama’s strategist, “is going to have a heyday with this, and Republicans need to know this story before we nominate this guy.”
He said he had commissioned Jason Killian Meath, an advertising executive and freelance filmmaker, to direct the movie. Mr. Meath worked on the Romney campaign in 2008 as an associate of Stuart Stevens, who is Mr. Romney’s strategist.
Mr. Bennett said he paid the film’s entire cost, $40,000, from his own pocket; it was never an official project of the pro-Perry group, Make Us Great Again. He said had he never showed it to the pro-Perry group, which he left in October.
But people with knowledge of the film’s provenance said that officials at Make Us Great Again were shown an early portion of the film, and had told Mr. Bennett that they had no interest in using it or paying for it.
In a statement, Scott Rials, the executive director, said: “Make Us Great Again had nothing to do with this video in any way. Period. Barry Bennett worked with us during the startup phase of the super PAC, but we are now working on different projects.”
A pass was also taken by a Huntsman Super PAC. The Christian Science Monitor describes the curiously rushed acquisition of the four-Pinocchio short film by the Gingrich Super PAC as follows:
According to [Gregg Phillips of Winning Our Future], Meath’s associates reached out to Winning the Future this past week, offering the film for sale. After negotiations, “we bought the film on Thursday for an undisclosed sum,” he says.
He denies reports that money from Las Vegas casino owner Sheldon Adelson was used to buy the film and would not discuss any donations to the super PAC by Mr. Adelson. However, according to Factcheck.org, IRS documents show that Adelson donated $7 million to a now defunct Gingrich super PAC called American Solutions for Winning the Future.
Media have widely reported that Adleson has donated $5 million to the current super PAC, making the $3.4 million ad buy in South Carolina possible.
The Christian Science Monitor article is dated January 11, so presumably the Thursday from “this past week,” upon which “King of Bain” was purchased for an undisclosed sum, would be January 5. And Newt Gingrich was already talking up the film during a debate held three days later, on the morning of Sunday, January 8 – without having seen it, and apparently unaware that it didn’t pass even the most cursory smell test.
Nobody at Winning Our Future thought to check out any of the movie’s claims at all – not even checking to see if Romney actually had anything at all to do with 75 percent of the incidents it covers – before they forked over that “undisclosed sum” and built a huge ad campaign around it? An ad campaign their own candidate now says must be heavily revised or suspended? This is a political cautionary tale for the ages.
It has been suggested that all of this will rebound to Romney’s great benefit, because he will now be insulated from Bain attacks during the general election. It’s all old news now, and some of it has been spectacularly discredited, so it can’t hurt him next summer.
That analysis greatly underestimates the media’s ability to spin these things, by deciding what constitutes “old news” that its audience no longer wants to hear. Allegations and controversies only become “old news” when they are leveled against Democrats. Only Democrats can be inoculated through injections of dead viral memes. Republicans are never allowed to build up such resistance to old stories.
By next summer, when Team Obama wants to drag the Bain club out and beat Romney with it, mainstream media coverage will describe Romney as “dogged by these persistent allegations” which have been “swirling around his campaign since the beginning of the year.” Swirling dogs are an exclusive feature of Republican campaigns. GOP political operatives should keep that in mind before unleashing them.