It's not just what's in Mitt Romney's tax returns; it's the very fact that he flatly refuses to release them. That's what had legendary investigative journalist Carl Bernstein so livid on Wednesday's Morning Joe.
"This is an extraordinary moment," he said. "How can we have a candidate for the presidency of the United States who is unwilling to share his tax returns with the people of the country? I think that most reasonable people are going to say—who have an open mind—are going to say, we don't want this. Almost anything but this. It's wrong. It's simply wrong."
But while Romney's refusal to release more than two years of his tax returns may be unusual from a historical perspective, it's far from an isolated incident in this campaign season. Romney and Obama are arguably running the least transparent presidential campaigns of any major party candidates in modern American history.
Though the president has released his tax returns for the last 12 years, both his campaign and Romney's have adopted an extraordinary practice: granting certain interviews only on the condition that they can review and even edit quotes before they get published. On Monday, The New York Times reported:
The push and pull over what is on the record is one of journalism’s perennial battles. But those negotiations typically took place case by case, free from the red pens of press minders. Now, with a millisecond Twitter news cycle and an unforgiving, gaffe-obsessed media culture, politicians and their advisers are routinely demanding that reporters allow them final editing power over any published quotations.
Quote approval is standard practice for the Obama campaign, used by many top strategists and almost all midlevel aides in Chicago and at the White House — almost anyone other than spokesmen who are paid to be quoted. (And sometimes it applies even to them.) It is also commonplace throughout Washington and on the campaign trail.
The Romney campaign insists that journalists interviewing any of Mitt Romney’s five sons agree to use only quotations that are approved by the press office. And Romney advisers almost always require that reporters ask them for the green light on anything from a conversation that they would like to include in an article.
And of course, an unprecedented amount of campaign spending this year comes in the form of "dark money" from anonymous donors—though Republicans' dark money outweighs Democrats' by several orders of magnitude.