Fox News is deflecting attention from Mitt Romney's failure to release his tax returns by promoting his call for other people to "put up or shut up." But while Fox ran defense for him, they left out that Romney has still released only two years of tax returns -- contrary to modern presidential standards and growing bipartisan calls for transparency.
Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid claimed an investor from Bain Capital had told him that Romney "hasn't paid any taxes for 10 years," although Reid could not verify whether the information was accurate. Romney appeared on Sean Hannity's radio show and responded by calling on Reid to "put up or shut up":
ROMNEY: It's time for Harry to put up or shut up. Harry is going to have to describe who it is he spoke with because that's totally and completely wrong. It's untrue, dishonest, and inaccurate. It's wrong. So I'm -- I'm looking forward to have Harry reveal his sources and we will probably find out it's the White House. Look the Obama campaign is going to do everything in its power to try and talk about anything besides the president's record.
On this morning's edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy aired Romney's comments and responded by claiming Romney was "absolutely right." Doocy went on to quote GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell, saying "you know what Mitch McConnell, who is Harry Reid's counterpart, yesterday said on the floor of the Senate? He said it's 'beneath the dignity of his office' and essentially said, 'Harry, shut up with the secret source.'"
But what was missing from Fox & Friends' attack on Reid is that Romney hasn't "put up or shut up" himself. The candidate has consistently ignored mounting calls to release the tax returns that would clear up the matter once and for all. Romney has tried to claim that releasing two years of tax returns is enough, but as FactCheck.org pointed out recently, "In more than three decades, no other nominees for either party have released fewer than five years' worth of returns. Romney's own father released a dozen years' worth when he ran for the GOP nomination in 1968."
In a CNN op-ed, Edward Kleinbard, a professor at UCLA's Gould School of Law, pointed out that Romney has "exempted himself from the proud bipartisan tradition of presidential nominees displaying genuine financial candor with the electorate," concluding that "[f]or a nominee to America's highest office, a clear and transparent reporting of his finances should be nothing more than routine." A Washington Post editorial pointed out that Romney's arguments against releasing his tax returns don't hold up to scrutiny:
On Tuesday, Mr. Romney brushed off demands to make public more tax returns, saying they would be used by the Obama campaign's opposition research. "And I'm simply not enthusiastic about giving them hundreds or thousands of more pages to pick through, distort and lie about," he said. Given both sides' campaign so far, his expectation of distortion may be realistic.
But Mr. Romney surely is capable of responding to any distortions. For voters, the documents are essential exhibits in an application for the presidency. It is insulting to voters for Mr. Romney to keep them under wraps and will only fuel suspicions that he has something else to conceal.
He should prove otherwise.
Many prominent conservatives have joined the call for Romney to release his returns.
Former Republican Party chairman Haley Barbour told National Review Online that Romney should release them because "Romney needs to put it behind him. It's a distraction and he needs to get back to what matters." Robert Bentley, the Republican governor of Alabama, agreed that Romney should release the returns because "I just believe in total transparency."
Fox News contributor Bill Kristol said that "it's crazy" that Romney hasn't released "six, eight, ten years of back tax returns." Conservative columnist George Will and former George W. Bush strategist Matthew Dowd agreed that Romney won't release his returns because "there's obviously something there that compromises what he said in the past."
But Fox & Friends has remained on Romney's side. While media figures and politicians, even those in his own party, continue to push for Romney to release his returns, Fox & Friends has pushed back every step of the way.