The press is missing a trick in continuing to ask Governor Romney only whether he’s going to release more than his most recent tax returns. That allows him to say either yes or no (for now, it’s no), which produces no information. So no news gets made. But there are lots of other ways to get at the Romney tax issue by asking him a variety of different questions, for which even a refusal to comment would be news.
All these questions should begin with something like this: “Governor, we know you feel that releasing additional tax returns will invade your privacy and that of your family and, as you have asserted, allow the Obama campaign to pick through thousands of pages and come up with more distortions and half-truths. So if you are not going to release the returns, could you just tell us this:
Reporters could then choose from among these follow-on questions:
1. In the last 10 years have you ever paid less than 10 percent of your adjusted gross income in federal income taxes? If you don’t know offhand, could you ask your accountant to tell us? (On different days reporters could substitute 7 percent, 5 percent or 2 percent as the benchmark.)
2. Governor, in the last 10 years what is the highest tax rate you have paid? If you don’t know, could you ask your accountant to tell us?
3. Governor, could you ask your accountant simply to release the percent tax of your adjusted gross income you paid in each of the last 10 years? Or could he simply release the two pages of your form 1040 for each year, but to preserve your privacy redact everything on all pages except your signature and line 37 (adjusted gross income) and line 61 (total tax owed); we will calculate the percentages.