Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Would I lie to you?

I always wanted to use Latin in the title of a post. There, now I can cross that off my list. The phrase above can be roughly translated as "Who guards the guardians?" It is frequently attributed to Plato's Republic, which is incorrect, but I don't care. It's an important concept, whatever the source. In politics it is usually taken to refer to the problem of ensuring those who have power exercise it in the interest of the common good.

This came to mind when I was thinking about the determination that the Obama campaign was not being truthful when it blamed Mitt Romney for outsourcing jobs while at Bain. Its argument was that he had ceased to be head of Bain Capital in 1999 and therefore to claim that he had responsibility for company activities that involved outsourcing, which occurred after that, was, in its estimation, untrue.

As I wrote a couple of days ago, there is substantial evidence to indicate that Romney continued to play a significant leadership role in the company after he claimed to have stepped down in 1999 so I, and others, have argued that's case is built on a distinction that makes no difference.

Yesterday, further to support the critique of, Josh Marshall at TPM wrote this:

There's no question that numerous public filings and some contemporaneous press references say Romney was still running things at Bain after 1999. But his campaign insists that whatever securities filings may have said, in practice, he was so busy running the 2002 Winter Olympics that he actually had no role at Bain after early 1999. That's possible in theory. But there's no evidence for it besides self-interested claims by Romney. And there's plenty of documentary evidence to the contrary. After all, what you tell the SEC is really supposed to be true.

But here's the thing. I've found yet more instances where Romney made declarations to the SEC that he was still involved in running Bain after February 1999. To the best of my knowledge, no one has yet noted these.

The documents go into different aspects of Romney's ownership of various Bain and Bain related assets. But in both Romney had to say what he currently did for a living.

And because facts are important, Marshall finishes his argument by providing evidence of two SEC filings from July 2000 and February 2001 in which Romney listed his "principle occupation" as "Managing Director of Bain Capital." The relevant section of the SEC filing is below:

The bottom line is that Romney provided information to the SEC that he still had a leadership role at Bain after 1999. No matter how he tries to spin this, this is called proof that he is the one not telling the truth. This is what it means to check facts.

Now, I'm not suggesting that the people who originally stated that Obama's campaign got it wrong did so out of partisan interest or maliciousness. I suspect they just got it wrong. is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center and, as far as I know, is well regarded. But as of yesterday it was still running the now discredited critique of the Obama campaign on their website.

In a democracy, independent media should be guards of our political system. I know this because I have been watching Aaron Sorkin's Newsroom. When they get it wrong, they ought to do something about that. In answer to our opening question, apparently we all have a responsibility to guard the guardians or fact check the fact checkers, because, in this case, they don't appear to be willing to do it themselves.

Too bad.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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