So I kept thinking as I watched Ed Schultz’s interview last night with Scott Prouty—as we now know, the man who made and leaked the 47 percent video—I kept trying to check my impulses by asking myself: Now, suppose this were Fox, and suppose Scott Prouty had secretly taped Barack Obama saying that corporate leaders were heartless mercenaries who cared nothing about their employees or America, and suppose that that had helped cost Obama the election. What would I be thinking about him?
I admit easily and breezily that I would have disliked him and would have spent the hour probing for weaknesses and points of possible attack. That’s how it goes in this business.
However, I also say this: I don’t think I would have found many. Prouty was intelligent, judicious, and thoughtful. He seemed completely sincere (I say seemed since I don’t know the man). He knew exactly what he was doing. Weaknesses were few to nonexistent.
Let me put it this way. In my post yesterday, I fretted about the onslaught he was about to experience from the right. But as I Google his name this morning, I see nothing from the right-wing media. If you’ve ever done such a search on a topic that the right-wing press has jumped on, you know that the first page and sometimes the first two pages return you nothing but conservative media. So they aren’t piling on the guy, so far at least. Long experience teaches me: When they go dark is when they know they can’t win.
So here’s how it happened. Prouty had worked for a while for this high-end caterer. He brought his camera to the event because he thought there might be opportunity afterwards for picture-taking sessions with the candidate (which never materialized, and which made him think Romney was sort of a jerk). He started recording the speech just to capture it. Obviously, he had no idea Romney was going to say the things he said. And then Prouty started listening.
Interestingly, the thing that bothered Prouty wasn’t so much the 47 percent remarks, although he had enough news sense in him to know they were dynamite. What bothered him were Romney’s remarks about a factory in China Bain had bought, a factory whose grounds were surrounded by fencing and barbed wire to keep the young female workers in. Romney spoke about it in a way that struck Prouty as disingenuous and unfeeling, and he got mad.
He went home and did some Googling. He learned that Romney had profited from outsourcing. He saw an article on the factory by David Corn. He spent two weeks pondering whether to take it public, thinking through the moral and legal consequences, whatever they were. He finally looked himself in the mirror and said fuck it. Here we go. He got in touch with Corn.
He said last night he’s a registered independent, but he’s clearly a liberal-minded person. He said he was proud Obama is the president. He decided to give the interview to Schultz because Schultz is uniquely devoted in the TV universe to class issues. So whatever his registration, he’s on a side. Fine. He decided to help that side—or more accurately, to stop the other side.
It was Romney’s appearance on Fox on March 3 that made him go public now. Romney’s self-serving interview clearly infuriated him. The greatest thing he said during the whole hour went something like (I can’t find a transcript yet): You know, Romney could still be making positive contributions. He could go to one of those communities where Bain closed a factory, that town in Illinois say, and say he’s sorry about what happened, start a fund or a foundation to help people there. Yes, he is right. But yeah, sure. Can anyone picture Romney doing that? It would be an admission that his life’s work was something less than wholly admirable, which is an admission he shows no signs of being able to make.
I kept thinking while I was watching the left’s accidental hero of 2012 of the right’s accidental hero of 2008, Joe the Plumber. The Republicans and the right used Samuel Wurzelbacher, who was neither named Joe nor was a (licensed) plumber, as a convenient cudgel against Obama, and Wurzelbacher was delighted to play along, reveling in the fame that came his way as a result of his frequent Fox appearances during the 2008 campaign.
Prouty, by contrast, never sought notoriety during the campaign, and even now, well, he’s being hailed today, and properly so, but I’d be very disappointed and frankly quite surprised if he becomes some kind of slatternly MSNBC fixture who shows up to mouth half-coherent DNC talking points as Wurzelbacher has on Fox, and run a crappy and stupid race for Congress. Prouty sounded last night as if he wants to seize on this opportunity to do the kind of work he cares about and help working people or union people in some way. Wurzelbacher was a show horse and a blowhard, playing to a movement that loves show horses and blowhards provided they’re blowing the approved notes. He changed nothing.
Prouty is a serious and earnest person who is actually trying to help working people and who did make an enormous difference. Their notoriety and how they gained it and the purpose to which they used it tells us not only something about them, but about the two sides as well.