Distorting an interview Ann Romney gave to a Nevada media outlet last week, MSNBC daytime anchor (and onetime co-anchor of ABC’s Nightline) Martin Bashir tried to impugn the mental health of GOP candidate Mitt Romney on his Monday program.
Bashir was seizing on comments Mrs. Romney made to Reno’s KTVN on Thursday in which she said her chief concern, if her husband was elected, would be his “mental well-being,” even as she praised her husband’s capabilities: “I have all the confidence in the world in his ability, in his decisiveness and his leadership skills, in his understanding of the economy, in his understanding of what's missing right now in the economy – you know, pieces that are missing to get this jumpstarted. So for me I think it would just be the emotional part of it.”
While Mrs. Romney demonstrated her support for her spouse and an understanding of the rigors of the presidency in the interview, to Bashir, it was a golden opportunity to run a segment strongly suggesting that Gov. Romney may not be mentally fit for duty as president.
Bashir called the segment "Being Willard Romney." He directed his first question to liberal pundit and Guardian columnist Ana Marie Cox. The MSNBC host first asked: “Mrs. Romney has expressed concerns about her husband's mental well-being, but do you get the feeling that perhaps there's more to this than she's saying?”
Cox seemed a bit taken aback by Bashir's query: “Well, Martin, I actually think this is sort of one area where I'm hesitant to mock too much. I think that the relationship between Mitt and Ann…”
Interrupting Cox, Bashir shot back that he was dead serious:
“I'm not asking you to mock, Ana Marie, I'm asking you a serious question. No, I'm not asking you to mock. His wife has said, and volunteered, that her number one concern for her husband is his mental health and mental well-being. I'm asking you do you think that she knows things about him that provoke that kind of concern?”
Rather than attack Bashir for taking Romney out of context or for hitting below-the-belt with a nakedly-partisan cheap shot, Cox then gave a diplomatic response where she noted that Romney seems to handle campaign stress pretty well and that he certainly handled well the incredible stress of the world of private equity finance. Cox held out that Romney "seems like the kind of guy who's really hard on himself, so, maybe she is concerned for him."
Bashir then moved on to his other guest, Washington Post editorial writer and MSNBC contributor Jonathan Capehart, asking another version of the same question: “Jonathan, as this campaign has progressed, I've noticed that Mr. Romney has become increasingly impatient and testy, particularly when asked polite questions by the media. Is it therefore fair to assume that Mr. Romney does have difficulties when the pressure on him increases, ’cause we've heard David Axelrod describe [the] presidential campaign as an MRI for the soul.”
"I don't fault him for being testy," the liberal Post writer answered, chalking up Romney's demeanor to troublesome polling data. Capehart didn't seem to outright accept Bashir's premise that Romney was not mentally suited for the pressures of the presidency, but he also failed, like Cox, to chastise Bashir for his low blow.
This is hardly the first time Bashir has plunged deep into the abyss of hateful rhetoric. This is the same MSNBC host, who, on the air, wished that a wealthy co-founder of Facebook would go "play with the traffic," blasted Ann Romney as "fake" and "two-faced," and compared former Sen. Rick Santorum to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. And while Bashir and his colleagues at MSNBC have been hard at work blaring the alarm about a supposed conservative/Republican "war on women," it's notable that Bashir himself got in hot water in 2008 for some remarks about ABC reporter Juju Chang at an awards show that clearly crossed the line into sexual harassment.
Bashir's deliberate decision to take Mrs. Romney’s comments out of context -- and his rampant, baseless speculation about Mitt Romney's mental health – prove just one thing: it’s Bashir who's sick in the head.
Ken Shepherd is Managing Editor of the Media Research Center’s blog, NewsBusters.org.