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Who was that whispering bandit?

A mysterious whispered voice appearing to prompt Mitt Romney was really just that of a random audience member who was picked up by an open microphone, NBC News said Friday. None of the candidates ever heard it.
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Calling for tax cuts? Noted. Bashing the Democrats? Recorded. Sounding tough on security? Check.

The coverage of the MSNBC Republican presidential debate Thursday hit all the requisite notes.

Except one.

“So, what on earth was that whisper all about?” queried the Carpetbagger Report.

It — and much of the rest of the political blogosphere — was chewing over a mysterious whispered voice that could be heard during MSNBC’s live coverage of the debate in Boca Raton, Fla. It popped up as Tim Russert, NBC News’ Washington bureau chief and moderator of “Meet the Press,” was asking former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney a question about Social Security:

RUSSERT: Governor Romney, you are a big fan of Ronald Reagan. Will you do for Social Security what Ronald Reagan did in 1983?


ROMNEY: I’m not going to raise taxes. 

Now, if you’re of a certain mind, that’s the sort of thing that might lead you to start throwing around conspiracy theories. To wit, was Romney getting some unauthorized help from off-stage?

“Forget Dennis Kucinich’s claims about seeing UFOs. The new unsolved mystery of the campaign trail is the ‘whisper,’ ” wrote

“Recalls ‘the bulge’ from the Bush/Kerry debates doesn’t it?” asked Rolling Stone.

Just a random voice
While the buzz over the incident was loud enough that Brian Williams, Russert’s co-moderator and anchor of “NBC Nightly News,” felt the need to weigh in, the grassy-knoll types will be disappointed. Romney’s innocent, the network said.

Domenico Montanaro, an NBC News political researcher, wrote on the network’s political blog, First Read: “After reviewing the tapes, NBC determined that an open mic[rophone] 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.”

But because bad information chases after new, it is likely that the speculation will continue for some time. NBC didn’t help matters when a First Read post airing the matter abruptly disappeared from for a while. Altogether, it was more than enough to prompt political junkies to ask whether anything nefarious was up.

Turns out that posting was the casualty of an internal misunderstanding between NBC News producers, one of whom removed it because he thought it was a question, not a blog post.

“It’s probably made out to be a bigger deal by the blogs than it actually is,” Montanaro said from Columbia, S.C., where he was preparing for the Democratic primary Saturday. “I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist. I go on facts as much as I can.”

The post has since been republished. You can read it here.

Trust us.