On Thursday and Friday, NBC launched an all out assault on Mitt Romney, urging him to release more tax returns. Opening Thursday's NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams scrambled to resurrect the worn-out line of attack: "Talking taxes. Under intense pressure, Mitt Romney talks about what he has paid." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
Introducing the lead story moments later, Williams proclaimed: "It is a topic that won't go away. In the hands of the Democrats, it has dogged Mitt Romney from the start and may follow him all the way to the finish of this campaign." He described Romney's "private life of great wealth" and him being "unwilling to go public with his tax returns beyond the past two years."
In the report that followed, seizing on Romney answering a single question on Thursday about his taxes, correspondent Ron Mott declared: "Questions about his taxes and those tax returns just keep on coming....Romney's tax burden trailed him to South Carolina today, prompting yet another response to allegations he paid little to no taxes over the past decade."
In an interview previewed on Thursday's Today and aired that night on Rock Center, news anchor Natalie Morales grilled Ann Romney on releasing more tax returns: "A lot of people still are asking why not be transparent and release more than the 2010 and the estimates for 2011.... should you not be questioned about your finances?" Morales added that Americans "feel like you may be hiding something."
On Friday's Today, Mott again reported on Mitt Romney "trying to convince and win over skeptics about his taxes" and observed:
Romney got a brief reprieve from persistent questioning about his taxes, thanks in large part to his pick of Paul Ryan as his VP running mate. But Thursday, the thorny issue nipped at him once more. Prompting the former Massachusetts governor to again respond to accusations he's withholding the release of more tax returns because he paid little or no taxes over the past decade.
Mott noted that it was "the first substantial distraction for the campaign away from [Paul] Ryan's much-discussed debut on the national stage."
Wrapping up the story, Mott promoted a proposed deal from the Obama campaign for Romney: "NBC News has learned the Obama campaign has made an offer in writing to the Romney campaign that if Governor Romney releases five years worth of his tax returns, the Obama campaign promises not to criticize him anymore if he doesn't release any more than that."
Moments later, co-host Savannah Guthrie asked Meet the Press host David Gregory about the laughable offer: "A gimmick or just an opportunity for Obama to try to make this more of the issue again?" Gregory replied:
...it's total gamesmanship, but also an effort for the Obama campaign to keep this story alive. They want nothing more than to shine a big bright spotlight on Mitt Romney's personal finances....let's underline just how wealthy Mitt Romney is....let's really investigate that. Right now the Obama team wants to drive up his negatives, that would be a principle goal of theirs, and the tax story is a way they think they can do it.
And NBC News is happily aiding the Obama campaign in that effort. In fact, it has been an obsession for the network in recent months:
"So you don't think you've raised more questions than you've answered in releasing the amount of information you have to date?"
"People hear he's not going to release the rest of his returns and they wonder why. They wonder, is there a year there where he paid no taxes? They wonder about expensive horses and houses and what have you. So I'll ask another way, what is it that is preventing you from releasing the rest of your returns?"
"And late today, the conservative magazine National Review complicated things for the Romney campaign, echoing Obama campaign calls for Romney to release more tax returns. And Texas Governor Rick Perry said candidates should be as transparent as they can, leaving the Romney campaign right back where it started the day, Brian, on the defensive."
"Mounting pressure. Mitt Romney facing new calls to release more of his tax returns. And this time they're coming from prominent conservatives."
"Mitt Romney is within the letter of the law, but he's on the low end of the norm. Do you think that he's left the impression with voters that perhaps he does have something to hide?"
Here is a full transcript of Mott's August 16 Nightly News report:
7:00PM ET TEASE:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Talking taxes. Under intense pressure, Mitt Romney talks about what he has paid. Also tonight, our revealing conversation with his wife Ann Romney, who also talks tax returns, before getting more personal, talking about the diagnosis that led to the fight of her life.
7:01PM ET SEGMENT:
WILLIAMS: It is a topic that won't go away. In the hands of the Democrats, it has dogged Mitt Romney from the start and may follow him all the way to the finish of this campaign. After a successful life in business and a private life of great wealth, Mitt Romney in public life has been unwilling to go public with his tax returns beyond the past two years. It came up again today as did the broader policy discussion that now team Romney is running on. And we begin here tonight with NBC's Ron Mott on the campaign trail in the critical state of Ohio tonight. Ron, good evening.
RON MOTT: Brian, good evening to you. Today Mitt Romney broke out a dry erase board in trying to explain his plan for the future of Medicare, which of course has become a front and center topic in this campaign. But questions about his taxes and those tax returns just keep on coming. Mitt Romney's tax burden trailed him to South Carolina today, prompting yet another response to allegations he paid little to no taxes over the past decade.
MITT ROMNEY: I did go back and look at my taxes. And over the past ten years, I never paid less than 13%. I think the most recent year is 13.6 or something like that. So I've paid taxes every single year.
MOTT: In a recent interview with Brian Williams, Romney said he was not going to provide more than the 2010 tax return he's already released and an estimated return for 2011. Tonight, in an interview airing on Rock Center, Ann Romney defended her husband.
ANN ROMNEY: We have been very transparent to what's legally required of us. But, the more we release, the more we get attacked.
BARACK OBAMA: They want to turn Medicare into a voucher program.
MOTT: And in the wake of criticism from the President and Democrats about Paul Ryan's Medicare plan, Romney went back to the drawing board at an impromptu news briefing with reporters today, defining his plan.
ROMNEY: My plan presents no change.
MOTT: The Ryan plan and the President's Affordable Care Act both trim Medicare by more than $700 billion, a point of contention surely to be debated from now until November, a battle Ryan welcomes.
PAUL RYAN: This election presents so many clear contrasts. One of those contrasts is this. Mitt Romney and I will protect and strengthen Medicare, leave it intact for our current seniors, and save it for the next generation.
MOTT: Ryan also delved into the China trade issue, attacking the President for refusing to act against what many consider that country's currency manipulation.
RYAN: President Obama promised he would stop these practices. He said he'd go to the mat with China. Instead, they're treating him like a door mat.
MOTT: Now, Paul Ryan has crisscrossed America this week visiting battleground states he and governor Romney hope to win in November. Tomorrow he's back in Virginia and on Saturday, Brian, Florida.
WILLIAMS: Ron Mott starting us off in Ohio tonight. Ron, thanks.