October 17, 2018

The bartender who rescued America

Scott Prouty buried his lede.

That’s journalism jargon for not recognizing the most newsworthy part of a story – for delaying the real attention-grabber for later.  (Calling a story’s first words the “lede” instead of the “lead” is a beloved fossil from the days when typesetters used lead – the metal – to put space between lines.  No wonder newspapers’ bottom lines are hurting.)

Prouty, we learned last week, is the 38-year old bartender who videotaped the $50,000-a-plate Boca Raton fundraiser where Mitt Romney wrote off 47 percent of the country as victims. 

It’s plausible that that footage cost Romney the presidency.  It validated his biggest perceived weakness – his image as a cartoon plutocrat, Mr. Moneybags, the Bain guy who fired workers and saddled companies with debt, the country club Republican who called sports “sport” and didn’t have a clue about how ordinary Americans were hurting. Romney tried to counter that image: he wore jeans, reminisced about shooting varmints and had country western stars in his corner.  He wanted swing voters to believe that his sucking up to his party’s resentful right was just an obligatory primary-season performance, and that as president he’d govern from the middle.

Scott Prouty’s tape revealed that the regular-guy stuff was the real performance – play-acting for the rubes. There he was in a roomful of millionaires, caught in the act, dissing half the country as dependents on the public teat.  The contempt for working stiffs wasn’t caricature; it was character. 

Prouty didn’t shoot the video because he wanted the goods on Romney.  He was just making a souvenir, like his pictures of Bill Clinton shaking hands with the staff at another event.  It was only when Romney talked about going to China to buy a factory “back in my private equity days” that he knew he had something explosive on his hands.

Romney told the room that the factory employed 20,000 young women in their teens and twenties, living twelve to a room in triple bunk beds, ten rooms sharing one little bathroom, working long hours for a “pittance.”  The factory was surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers.  “And we said ‘gosh, I can’t believe that you, you know, keep these girls in.’ And they said, ‘no, no, no. This is to keep other people from coming in. Because people want so badly to work in this factory that we have to keep them out.’ ”

What galled Prouty was that Romney bought the lie.  He told the story not to condemn slave labor, but to say how lucky Americans are to be born in a land of so much opportunity that we don’t have to stop people from scaling walls to get work. 

Looking around the room, Prouty saw that none of the guests were appalled.  He thought it wrong that only people with $50K to shell out could see the real Romney. Afterward, searching online, he learned that the factory was Global-Tech in Donguan, and that “>who’d written about Bain’s forays into China.  Enterprising reporters from “>Huffington Post managed to track Prouty down.  But it was only at the end of August, when Prouty posted the clip of Romney saying that 47 percent of Americans were freeloaders that the video began to catch fire.  Corn was the first to get “>Ed Show last week, Prouty ensured that the story would be about Romney, not about the motives of the man who made the tape.  What was striking about his media appearances was how important it was for him to keep talking about China and Kernaghan’s work for the “>Leo Gerard, who offered Prouty a job.  His goal is to go to law school and fight on behalf of ordinary Americans like himself.

But it turns out that the Scott Prouty tending bar at that Boca fundraiser was not an ordinary American.  Yes, he was struggling to make ends meet, and he had no health insurance and no car.  But going public with the video was not, “>Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the martyk@usc.edu.