NBC Desperately Scrambles to Claim Romney Told Olympians 'You Didn't Build That'

July 24th, 2012 1:34 PM

In an article for NBCNews.com's First Read on Monday, Domenico Montanaro eagerly proclaimed to readers: "Mitt Romney has criticized President Obama for his 'you didn't build that' line, when it came to businesses....But in 2002, during his speech at the Opening Ceremonies at the Winter Olympics....Romney made a similar argument about Olympians."

Romney simply told the Olympic athletes – many in their teens and twenties – that they achieved their individual success with help of parents, coaches, and their local communities. However, by Monday night, The Washington Post's Ezra Klein, filling in for MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, wildly misconstrued the comment to slam Romney: "Got that, Olympians? You didn't build it....It's like David Axelrod went back in time and put the precise words he needed into Mitt Romney's mouth."

An update to the First Read article added: "A Republican strategist sends over this response: 'The Obama Campaign is comparing the government to a loving parent? What happened to Julia?'" Montanaro felt compelled to clarify: "For the record, the post did not originate with the Obama campaign but an NBC archive search." Based on Klein's reaction to the Romney hit piece, is there any difference between NBC News and the Obama campaign?

Klein ranted that Romney, "knows that government has a role to play in helping businesses succeed, that other people have a role to play in helping businesses succeed. So his criticism to the contrary struck me as ridiculous and insincere." Later, he concluded: "Mitt Romney was right back then about those athletes....And he knows he's wrong right now as he tries to run against Obama's comments on American businesses."

On MSNBC's The Daily Rundown on Tuesday, host and NBC News political director Chuck Todd also seized on Romney's 2002 comments to run defense for the Obama campaign: "Well, the Romney campaign and conservatives have panned the President's, quote, 'It takes a village' argument. But the attack has its own complexities. There's that clip of Romney in 2002, reminding Olympians during a speech at the opening ceremonies that they didn't get their on their own."

Todd attempted to pile on with more recent Romney statement, but seemed to miss the point of the remark:

And there was more from Romney yesterday at a southern California fundraiser where he said, quote, "De Tocqueville looked at us and said what made us such an unusual nation, among other things, was our willingness to serve one another. The barn raisings, if you will. We need more barn raisings in America. More people who don't just look and say what can government do, but instead what things can I do to make a difference in the lives of people near me?"

Romney seemed to clearly be advocating for citizens helping each other without having to rely on government assistance.

Todd wrapped up the segment by arguing: "Look, every one of these attacks that the campaigns do to each other, you try to create clarity and then you dig in and you see there's a lot more muddiness there than you may have counted on."

Here is a transcript of Klein's July 23 rant:

9:20PM ET


EZRA KLEIN: I got to be honest, I tune out of these things sometimes, and this is one of those times. I didn't take any of it seriously when it was unfolding last week, not a word of it, because the fact of the matter is that Mitt Romney is not a stupid man. He knows better. I mean, Mitt Romney ran Bain Capital. It was a firm that went in and tried to help, different people helping other businesses become successful again. And it did so in large part with help from the government. They used government tax deductions to carry out essentially interest finance takeovers in order to bring those companies back to profitability, or barring that, to strip them bare before they turn them out into bankruptcy.

In Romney's telling, if those businesses had not had access to Romney and his team, they would have been in much worse shape. And in any telling, if Romney and his team hadn't had access to outside financing and a tax code friendly to debt, they would have been in much worse shape. Romney knows that. He knows that government has a role to play in helping businesses succeed, that other people have a role to play in helping businesses succeed. So his criticism to the contrary struck me as ridiculous and insincere.

But Republicans this week are still pushing this thing really hard. Today, the RNC held a conference call with a pair of small business owners to highlight President Obama's supposedly offensive comments. This was the backdrop today at a Mitt Romney business roundtable event in California. "We did build it," it says. I bet Romney actually didn't build that banner, but whatever my suspicions, I didn't really have any way to prove that Romney knew better. Actually, I didn't have proof until today. Today, when video came out of Mitt Romney telling Olympic athletes back in 2002, you didn't build it.

MITT ROMNEY: You guys pushed yourselves, drove yourselves, sacrificed, trained and competed time and again, winning and losing. You Olympians, however, know that you didn't get here solely on your own power. For most of you, loving parents, sisters or brothers, encouraged your hopes, coaches guided, communities built venues and organized competitions, all Olympians stand on the shoulders of those who lifted them. We've already cheered the Olympians. Let's also cheer the parents, coaches, and communities. Alright!

KLEIN: Got that, Olympians? You didn't build it. You couldn't possibly have achieved what you've achieved up to this point without the help of others. Without the help, sometimes, of even the government, which helped build the venues that you compete in. I couldn't believe that quote when I first watched it, actually. It's like David Axelrod went back in time and put the precise words he needed into Mitt Romney's mouth. I mean, Romney even praises government in there. He didn't need to do that. He didn't need to bring up venues, but he praises government.

But you know, I mean the reason he said it, is it's all true. You could make a pretty good case that, say a marathon runner, did it mostly on his own. But most athletes, like most businesses, benefit from the institutions that exist in their societies. Mitt Romney knows that. He knows that when it comes to Olympic athletes and he knows that when it comes to American businesses.

This gets to something larger that we are seeing a lot right now in American politics. The effort to take relatively modest policy differences and blow them up into gigantic yawning chasms of philosophical difference. In reality, the difference between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in terms of the specific policy that comes from the idea you didn't build that or you did build that, is about a percentage point of GDP and taxes. Maybe a little bit more, maybe a little bit less, depending on how you score Mitt Romney's tax cut plan.

Mitt Romney doesn't think that there should be no taxes, he doesn't think there should be no public investment, and Barack Obama doesn't think that we should have a 100% tax rate and 75 times more public investment. Both men think that we should have taxes that people pay because in society we are all better off for helping one another out. And both men think we should have public investment and public goods because there are things we all need to band to together to do collectively if we are going to succeed individually. The question is simply where to put the balance between the two.

Now, Mitt Romney may want to admit this, but he doesn't really have a choice anymore, because the fact of the matter is he already admitted it. He admitted it ten years ago when he was kicking off one of the greatest spectacles to individual achievement that one can possibly imagine. And he told those athletes at that time, in effect, you didn't build it. Mitt Romney was right back then about those athletes. They were helped, even though they did much on their own. And he knows he's wrong right now as he tries to run against Obama's comments on American businesses.