AllahPundit at Hot Air has video and reprises Dan Riehl's explanation: an open mike picked up someone whispering to Russert to exhort him to expand the question a bit. As asked - "will you do for social security what Ronald Reagan did in 1983" - Russert's question is sure to be pretty cryptic to the viewers at home, most of whom will have no recollection of what Reagan did twenty-five years ago. One point in favor of that explanation is that Russert does immediately add that Reagan raised the payroll tax and extended the retirement age.
Further supporting that once-innocent explanation is the laughable fact that MSNBC posted their own puzzlement and then deleted the post, almost as if the answer is too embarrassing. [But they have a new post up as of 4:16 PM; see UPDATE] [And Brian Williams heard the whisper and is also mystified].
Now, however, MSNBC is digging themselves in deeper with this response to Raw Story:
"We had some audio issues and Gov. Romney's mike wasn't working momentarily. Simple as that," MSNBC VP for Communications Jeremy Gaines said in a one-line e-mail response to questions about overheard whisper.
Oh, please, watch the video - unless we are about to nominate the greatest ventriloquist since Edgar Bergen it was not Romney who was mysteriously overheard saying "raise taxes", since his lips were not moving. And for a bit of bonus skepticism, I can make out an "mm hmm" that is almost surely from Romney as Russert introduces the question. I hear something like this (or see the transcription here):
Russert: Governor Romney, you are a big fan of Ronald Reagan...
(Barely audible): mm hmm.
That would be a socially appropriate acknowledgment from Romney that he was following along. Did his mike go dead and his lips stop moving seconds later?
Look, it is almost certainly the case that either Brian Williams or an NBC producer was picked up by a live mike trying to coach Tim Russert into completing his question. No big deal, except that MSNBC won't come clean.
MORE: Yes, Edgar Bergen's lips moved, and both Atrios and Steve Benen used "The Tax Whisperer" before I did (Well, it beats "WhisperGate"). Can I go back to bed now, or should I try another nip of the Day Quil?
FROM THE TRANSCRIPT:
MR. RUSSERT: Governor Romney, you are a big fan of Ronald Reagan. Will you do for Social Security what Ronald Reagan did in 1983?
MR. ROMNEY: I'm not going to raise taxes. What I'm going to do --
MR. RUSSERT: Well, Ronald Reagan raised the payroll tax, and he also raised the retirement age, and he saved Social Security with Alan Greenspan and Tip O'Neill and Bob Dole and Pat Moynihan.
MR. ROMNEY: Yeah --
MR. RUSSERT: Would you do what Ronald Reagan did?
MR. ROMNEY: No, I don't want to raise taxes. I've pointed out that -- that of the four ways to solve the -- the shortfall in Social Security, the worst idea is to raise taxes on the American people, because it has a double -- double whammy.
UPDATE: MSNBC took the post down because they realized it should never have gone up, and now they are trying to resolve this puzzle:
While I am watching the debate, I read the dispatches, post if applicable after quickly editing and put up my own thoughts. Regular e-mail questions get mixed in sometimes. I put this one up, but when I did, Lauren Appelbaum wrote me and said it was not necessarily intended to be a post but actually just a question to me if I knew who made the "taxes" comment. Being in South Carolina, following the Democrats for their primary and not on site in Florida, I didn’t know. We thought it might have simply been our control room cueing a question, which then didn’t seem to warrant a post, since that would be very inside baseball. So, I took it down.
After some of the confusion today, we are putting it back up for those that haven’t seen it. As far as figuring out the mystery of who or where it came from, that is being worked on, and we hope to have an answer soon. It puzzled us here too, and we’re looking through tape of other candidates to see if it was one of them. We’ll let you know.
Now they are just compounding absurdity - they figured it just might be their own control room curing a question so they left the wild speculation about Romney cheating out there unexplained. Great. Here is the original post:
The taxes whisper
From NBC’s Lauren Appelbaum and NBC/NJ’s Erin McPike
After Russert asked Romney the question on Reagan -- “Will you do for social security what Ronald Reagan did in 1983?” -- there is an audible statement in just one channel of audio saying “not raise taxes.”
Then Romney says “I’m not going to raise taxes…”
First Read commenters also noticed this -- where did this come from?
Where did this come from? A commenter at the MSNBC blog nails it:
LOL, you're asking us? Why don't you ask NBC? It was their debate.
Why not ask NBC? Hmm, because they won't tell us?
CURRENT ANSWER: From an UPDATE to the MSNBC post:
*** UPDATE *** After reviewing the tapes, NBC determined that an open mic picked up a whisper from the audience. It is unclear who it is that says it, but it was not said by any of the candidates, was not heard in the hall and, more importantly, not heard by the candidates.
"Not heard by the candidates"? Romney seemed to be responding precisely to that, as was Russert. Oh, well, great minds think alike.