Kurtz Scolds Harry Reid For "Unsubstantiated" Romney Allegation
CNN: Debra Saunders, Bill Press, and Michael Shear talk about the best way to cover Sen. Reid's explosive, unsubstantiated charge against Mitt Romney.
KURTZ: A question for journalist: what do you do when the senate majority leader makes an explosive charge and has got nothing to back it up?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: The word's out that he hasn't paid any taxes for 10 years. Let him prove that he has paid taxes because he hasn't. MIKE EMANUEL, FOX NEWS: Majority Leader Harry Reid reiterated an unsubstantiated charge he's made in recent days.
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC: We're talking about Mitt Romney's secret tax returns. And Harry Reid is now the one that has to put up or shut up, when Mitt Romney could shut up Harry Reid.
ROMNEY: Harry Reid has to put up or shut up, all right? So, Harry, who are your sources?
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: The last comment at Romney's press conference in Vegas on Friday.
Michael Shear, you're co-author of a piece in which you said it was hardly out of character for the cantankerous Harry Reid to hurl a taunting, unsubstantiated accusation at Romney. Well, it took several days, but you made Reid the issue.
SHEAR: Well, and I think -- I think when people make unsubstantiated charges with absolutely no proof behind them, you know, one option is to ignore them and -- for the media. That's not possible.
KURTZ: That's not really an option here.
SHEAR: That's not really an option here. He goes to the Senate floor, as you saw.
So, I think the best we can do is to: (a), demand that he give us the proof. And if he doesn't, clearly say as we did in the piece in the first sentence, it's unsubstantiated.
KURTZ: Now, Harry Reid said that he had gotten this from some unnamed person, used to work at Bain. He won't reveal it. He thinks it's true. He told us -- he did this original interview with the "Huffington Post" which reported it straight except for saying it's impossible to verify because they won't give us the source.
Is that the correct way to handle it? Who should be the issue here?
PRESS: There's only one guy who can here this up. It's not Harry Reid. I'm sorry, it's Mitt Romney.
KURTZ: Wait, wait, wait.
PRESS: No, no, I think reporters --
KURTZ: That's a Democratic talking point. That's a Democratic talking point. What I'm asking is how journalists should handle an unsubstantiated charge.
PRESS: I'm going to tell you. I'm going to tell you. Journalists should handle it by going to Mitt Romney and say why only two years, why not 23 years? Why -- you gave 23 years of it to McCain --
KURTZ: So, it's perfectly OK, it's perfectly OK in your view for Harry Reid to throw this out, unnamed source, nothing to back it up, and you just think that's fodder for journalist to attack Reid?
PRESS: I just want to point out, Harry Reid is not a journalist. Harry Reid is a Democratic politician who doesn't want Mitt Romney to get elected. What he is doing may be diabolical, but it's brilliant, because what's Mitt Romney been talking about for the last two days, he's been talking about his freaking tax returns. So Harry Reid is playing hardball.
KURTZ: Maybe diabolical, but --
SAUNDERS: We should not be helping him here. I think --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.
SAUNDERS: This reminds me when Michele Bachmann said that she met a mother who said her daughter got the HPV vaccine and got mentally retarded afterward. And the media jumped on her rightly and said, show us this woman. We're not even sure that this person exists.
You know, Candy Crowley's a great journalist. But she earlier said that Harry Reid wouldn't reveal his sources. How do we know he has any sources?
The accuser, the burden of proof is on the accuser. And Harry Reid has absolutely not met that burden in any way. I thought Frank Rooney's piece in "the New York Times" today was on the money.
KURTZ: Debra, when you say that we --
KURTZ: -- meaning the media, shouldn't be helping Harry Reid with this unsubstantiated charge, you're not suggesting that we don't report it at all. You're suggesting that we challenge him, be critical of him, be skeptical of him?
SAUNDERS: Until there is proof, the focus is that there's no proof. The focus should be on him, not on someone else. I mean, he's the -- he's the leader of the Senate. He has an obligation to his institution to make wild, unsubstantiated claims. He brings dishonor on that whole House. Unless he can prove what he's saying --
SAUNDERS: -- then he should, then we have to focus on him.
KURTZ: What is interesting is the cold eyed assessment would say that you are right in this narrow sense -- it worked because it's all over the Sunday shows today. Still talking about Romney's tax returns based on what Reid said even though Reid has produced no evidence as you pointed out. SHEAR: That's right. It worked on Friday when he held the press conference.
KURTZ: And a reporter asked the question --
SHEAR: Of course. And he wanted -- Mr. Romney wanted to talk about the jobs numbers and attacks that he was leveling on the president. But yet, this got in the way. So, it's working. And I think Debra's right.
KURTZ: Got to go.
PRESS: Still working today.
KURTZ: You seem to be enjoying it. Bill Press, Debra Saunders, Michael Shear, thanks for joining us this morning.