While I think it was irresponsible of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to make unsubstantiated claims about Mitt Romney's tax returns, let's not go overboard in the condemnations.
For PolitiFact, the second-hand rumor Reid shared with reporters is a "pants on fire" lie, but I think that goes too far. For RCP's Tom Bevan, Reid's tactic was comparable to Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-Minn.) anti-Muslim witch hunt, but I'm afraid that goes way too far.
Conservatives often complain of two sets of standards in politics: one for Democrats and another for Republicans. Sometime that double standard is imaginary. Often, it's quite real. Consider the events of the last three weeks: [...]
Bachmann's claims were based upon the thinnest possible evidence, and she was quickly denounced -- particularly by members of her own party -- for making such unsourced and scurrilous, claims. [...]
Last week Sen. Harry Reid claimed in an interview that a Bain Capital investor told him Mitt Romney hadn't paid taxes in 10 years. Reid passed along his similarly unfounded allegation with a striking admission: "Now, do I know that that's true? Well, I'm not certain," Reid said.... To this day, not a single prominent Democrat has denounced him for it.
At a superficial level, I kinda sorta see where Bevan is going with this. Both Bachmann and Reid made claims based on no evidence.
But that's about where the similarities end. Bachmann's witch hunt was based on an ugly, bigoted conspiracy theory, targeting American patriots because she doesn't like their religion. Her crusade was based on a McCarthy-style, guilt-by-association smear that decent people on both sides easily recognize as disgusting. There's real evidence that Bachmann's targets are 100% innocent of her allegations.
Reid heard a rumor about Romney's taxes, which may or may not be true. The shot was, at least to my mind, below the belt, but it wasn't bigoted; it's not based on a ridiculous conspiracy theory; and it's not demagoguery. There's evidence that can resolve the question, but it's been hidden.
The qualitative differences between the two controversies are overwhelming.
As Josh Marshall summarized, "[C]laiming someone legally paid little or no taxes -- but not revealing your source -- is not the same as accusing American citizens of treason or whipping up religious bigotry against members of a religious minority group."