Mitt Romney challenged the president during a speech at the VFW in Reno.… (Justin Sullivan / Getty…)
Mitt Romney certainly knows Barack Obama is the “current” president. He might think he is a “corrupt” president. And therein lies a media and Twitter tempest.
Speaking to the VFW in Reno on Tuesday, the Republican presidential candidate sharply hit the president, accusing him of putting U.S. troops and national defense at risk, with national security leaks, budget cuts and a weak economy at home.
“A healthy American economy is what underwrites American power. When growth is missing, government revenues fall, social spending rises, and many in Washington look to cut defense spending as the easy way out,” Romney told the assembled veterans. His prepared text then had him adding: “That includes our current president.”
But at least some of those present, including a reporter for the Las Vegas Sun and a veteran columnist for that newspaper, heard Romney say: “That includes our corrupt president.”
Anjeanette Damon, senior politics editor for the Sun, reported the remark as “corrupt,” noting that it “appeared to be a slip from the prepared remarks.”
Columnist Jon Ralston tweeted: “Yo, crazy people, I had my producer @paul_quinn analyze tape of Romney. He did it frame by frame. Says "puh" sound evident, as in ‘corrupt.’ "
Another reporter who attended the event thought Romney had said “corrupt,” but employees at NPR in Washington reportedly listened to enhanced audio and said the word sounded garbled and more likely “current.”
Romney’s Nevada spokesman, Mason Harrison, was quite adamant to reporters that the candidate had referred to Obama only as the “current” president.
Perish the thought that there might be an inadvertent misstep, by either the candidate or the media. Some of the Twitterati quickly attacked Romney, one even calling him a “disrespectful lowlife.” Others lashed out at Damon, one with a particularly ugly bit of profanity.
By day’s end Tuesday, some in the news media had second thoughts about how they had portrayed Romney’s reference to Obama. The Las Vegas Sun decided to take the word “corrupt” out of its story on Romney’s remarks. “Those who listened were split in what they heard, and given that lack of unanimity, the clearness of the prepared remarks and the insistence of the campaign that he said ‘current,’ we've decided to take it out,” explained Damon, who wrote the Sun’s story.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal took a similar step. Its initial story online also suggested that a Romney “slip of the tongue” had led to him calling Obama “corrupt.” But the Review-Journal also backed away—taking out the “corrupt” reference—after listening to the tape again. Columnist and TV host Ralston said he still heard “corrupt.”
Politics Now took a listen, and as readers might also discern on a recording http://www.therightscoop.com/watch-live-romney-speak-to-the-vfw-at-2pm -- at about the 9:45 mark—Romney slightly muffs his presidential modifier. He starts out with a “cur” sound, as in "current," and ends with a “rupt,” as in “corrupt.” That amounts to an unsatisfying split decision. The Sun’s Damon called the discussion over the language “an honest debate.”
It seemed entirely possible that Romney—like most politicians, given to speaking about currents and various corruptions—reached for one of the words and pulled the other out of his parietal lobe. It also seemed entirely possible that the Twitter tempest would quickly, and rightly, fade into the digital haze.
[Updated, 6:30 p.m. July 24: This post has been updated to indicate that the Las Vegas Sun and the Las Vegas Review-Journal decided to revise their original reporting on Romney's comments.]