STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Until this past weekend, Romney generally ignored invitations to be interviewed, except on Fox News. Then on Friday night, he did a series of TV talks defending his work at Bain Capital.
NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik was watching.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has always said it's simple: He shouldn't held responsible for what Bain did after 1999, because he had already left the company to run the Salt Lake City Olympics. But on Friday, there he was, participating in his own, particularly grueling pentathlon; five interviews, five networks, one afternoon - as here with CNN's Jim Acosta.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)
JIM ACOSTA: Why didn't you clear this up sooner?
MITT ROMNEY: Well, I was the owner of an entity that is filing that information. But I had no role, whatsoever, in the management of Bain Capital after February of 1999.
FOLKENFLIK: Just as every Olympic telecast involves a breakdown of the tape, let's slow this down so you can see the artistry and technique involved. In recent days, Talking Points Memo, Mother Jones magazine, and the Boston Globe reported that Romney had been head of his private equity firm, Bain Capital, three years longer than he claimed. At least, that's what Bain told the federal government, as Boston Globe editor-in-chief Marty Baron explains.
MARTY BARON: What we found were that there were documents that were filed by Bain Capital with the Securities and Exchange Commission that listed him as the sole stockholder of Bain, as the chairman of the board, as the chief executive officer, and as the president - and those filings went up all the way to 2002. And so that's what we reported.
FOLKENFLIK: Romney drew a paycheck as CEO too. The Obama campaign had previously attacked Romney for what they said was outsourcing jobs while at Bain. The scrutiny from the Globe and others allowed Democrats to renew those charges as campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter did on a conference call with reporters on Thursday.
STEPHANIE CUTTER: Mitt Romney was in full control of Bain Capital through 2002, and, therefore, directly responsible for whether it's outsourcing, bankrupting...
FOLKENFLIK: Cutter even suggested it might have been a felony to file false papers. It does beggar common sense to think a company's officially designated CEO, chairman, and sole shareholder has no influence over it. But when I spoke to two of the nation's foremost authorities on corporate governance and securities law - that's Columbia University's John Coffee and the University of Delaware's Charles Elson - both said the document's significance had been overblown. Yet on Friday, President Obama gave another twist of the screw in an interview with WJLA TV in Washington.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I think most Americans figure if you're the chairman, CEO, and president of a company, that you are responsible for what that company does.
FOLKENFLIK: For its part, the Romney campaign had a five-stage approach to the media - ignore, denigrate, cite, deflect, and flood. First, the campaign has refused to comment to reporters working on stories the campaign thought might be damaging. Next, Romney aides emailed other outlets to say they had formally demanded a correction before even contacting the Globe, according to editor, Marty Baron.
Then they cited other reporting that challenged the Obama campaign's claims. Factcheck.org director Brooks Jackson said it had reviewed similar SEC documents from after '99, but found no hard evidence of Romney's presence at Bain.
BROOKS JACKSON: The question has always been how much active involvement did he really have while he was out in Salt Lake spending an average of 12 hours a day, six days a week, running the Olympics.
FOLKENFLIK: Then Romney relied on sympathetic press for his ads.
(SOUNDBITE OF ROMNEY CAMPAIGN AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Misleading, unfair, and untrue. There was no evidence that Mitt Romney shipped jobs overseas.
FOLKENFLIK: Fourth, a distracting trial balloon got wide play on TV.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: The surprising name at the top of Mitt Romney's vice presidential list, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
FOLKENFLIK: Except Republicans, including Rice, do not think this could happen. For one thing, she favors abortion rights. That's a no-go for her party, and for Romney. Friday, as the story gained momentum, Romney invited reporters in, but he tried to turn the tables on the president, demanding an apology, in this case, on ABC.
(SOUNDBITE TV SHOW)
ROMNEY: He sure as heck ought to say he's sorry for the kinds of attacks that are coming from his team.
FOLKENFLIK: Earlier in the month the White House was yet again facing questions about lackluster jobs growth. A short week later, Romney ended up trying to cauterize his own wounds, five network interviews at a time. David Folkenflik, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.