That standard does not apply when Democrats talk out of turn -- even when they make unsupportable accusations deliberately. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did just that when he told The Huffington Post that an unnamed Bain Capital investor told him Mitt Romney "didn't pay taxes for 10 years."
Romney denies the charge. PolitiFact rated Reid's unsubstantiated claim as "pants on fire" false and "far-fetched."
Reid seemed to understand how fantastic his charge appeared. He told HuffPo, "Now, do I know that that's true? Well, I'm not certain. But obviously he can't release those tax returns. How would it look?"
HuffPo reported that though it is impossible to verify who the investor is (or whether Reid's invisible friend has any proof or even knowledge of Romney's tax history) -- and that Reid didn't even claim he knew what he said was true -- "there is limited political downside to the type of open speculation that Reid is making, so long as Romney refuses to budge on the issue of his tax returns."
You see, when Democrats hurl charges they can't back up, it's because they're so politically astute.
There's little penalty, so Reid not only repeated his tale but also embellished it. He said on the Senate floor of Romney: "As we know, he has refused to release his tax returns." That's not true. Romney released his 2010 return and an estimate for 2011. But when a man has a casual relationship with facts, he can make this sort of claim with impunity.
Reid has critics. The New York Times' Frank Bruni lamented Reid's "spew first" tactics. "The Daily Show's" Jon Stewart ranted: "Here's a rule of thumb: If you have to follow your claim with the words 'I don't know if that's true,' then shut up." Stewart likened Reid to fellow fabulist Donald Trump, railing that Reid "might as well put a dead cocker spaniel on (his) head and start yelling about birth certificates."
No worries. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi supported Reid. She told HuffPo that Reid's statement "is true. Somebody told him. It is a fact." Pelosi and Reid share the same low bar. Though both Democratic leaders have called on Romney to release years of tax returns, both refused to release their tax returns to McClatchy Newspapers last month.
As for Reid, he has a history of inserting his foot into his mouth. Reid once told "Game Change" authors John Heilemann and Mark Halperin that he believed Barack Obama could win the White House, as he was a "light-skinned" African-American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." Reid also called President George W. Bush a "loser" and former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan "one of the biggest political hacks we have in Washington."
Note that Reid didn't call Greenspan the biggest political hack in Washington. That role, after all, is taken.