What seemed like a potentially damaging exposé on former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's work in the world of private equity has quickly become fodder for the ongoing debate over what types of attacks are fair game during a political campaign.
A 28-minute documentary film released by Winning Our Future, a super PAC supporting former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign, seemed to pack quite a bit of punch upon its premiere this past week. And with officials at the group pledging to cut the footage into shorter television spots, there were visions of Romney stumbling amidst accusations of "vulture capitalism."
Gregg Phillips of Winning Our Future told The Huffington Post Saturday that the group had already purchased roughly $1.54 million in television airtime in South Carolina and had spent an additional $1.5 million for radio ads and $600,000 for digital operations. Not all of that will go to airing portions of the documentary, named "When Mitt Romney Came To Town" but more commonly referred to as "King of Bain," after Romney's private equity firm Bain Capital. But as of Saturday morning, the film had already been seen widely. According to Phillips, the 28-minute documentary and its trailer had been seen 750,000 times, a huge percentage of which came from "earned media" -- endless replays on TV and online.
"Y'all have been great," he said of the press, which has written extensively about the film since its debut.
That sentiment may soon change. In recent days, "King of Bain" has come under intense media scrutiny for advancing what fact-checkers describe as either misleading charges or outright falsehoods. The Washington Post gave the film four "Pinocchios" for including manipulative interviewing and out-of-context material. The most prominent of the complaints was that in three of the four instances that Winning Our Future highlighted as case studies of Bain Capital's predatory practices, Romney had not been directly involved.
Bloomberg News, meanwhile, reported that the film "stretches the truth and takes some reports out of context or selectively edits them."
Politico reported that two of the four companies featured in the film -- KB Toys and UniMac -- cut jobs, per Bain management directive, only after Romney had left the firm.
The New York Times reported Saturday from Gaffney, South Carolina, a town the film depicts as having been gutted after Bain Capital closed a photo scrapbook factory there. In fact, the Times noted, the town was doing relatively fine. Memories of the plant's closure in 1992 hardly resonate anymore, in part because it wasn't as damaging as the film portrayed it to be.
Finally, the Wall Street Journal did its own bit of fact-checking, tracking down the people who were interviewed for the documentary. The paper found out that at least three former factory workers featured in the film say they weren't laid off by Bain, but they were given promotions instead. It was a different private equity firm that was responsible for their company's closure.
In an email to reporters, Romney's spokesperson Andrea Saul said the Journal story highlighted the latest in a sequence of "ridiculous inaccuracies" in the film. Even Gingrich himself called on Winning Our Future to "either edit its 'King of Bain' advertisement and movie to remove its inaccuracies or to pull it off the air and off the Internet entirely." Secretly, he was likely less than displeased, after having endured a nasty stream of television ads a Romney-backed super PAC aired in Iowa in advance of that state's caucuses.
Accusations of serial inaccuracies would seem likely to dampen the spirits of the officials at Winning Our Future. But on Saturday, Phillips seemed eager to keep up the attacks. He said that he and others had gone back and looked at the transcript of the movies and determined that the interviews had been placed in proper context.
As for the idea that Romney had removed himself from Bain in 1999 and shouldn't be held responsible for the firm's managerial decisions thereafter, Phillips insisted that that was obfuscation on the part of the former Massachusetts governor.
"That flies in the face of everything we know. A Boston Globe article from 2002 said that Mitt Romney was the CEO and had 100 percent of voting or controlling interest in Bain until August 2002," he said. "I'm to the end of my rope with their lies."
Phillips promised to email over a copy of that Globe article, which The Huffington Post was unable to track down independently.
UPDATE: Later on Saturday, Phillips emailed an August 19, 2003, Boston Globe article that included the following revelation:
Romney had gone to Salt Lake City in early 1999 to run the Winter Olympics. But he signed the SEC's necessary doc-uments for Bain when his company - and he as an individual shareholder - sold their stakes in DDi in the fall of 2000 and in the winter and spring of 2001. SEC records indicate that Romney remained well into 2001 as a general partner in three of the four Bain funds that are involved in the DDi transactions.