Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How Mother Jones got the Romney '47 percent' story - Washington Post

Big scoops come in small increments. It takes some luck and some connections, some phone calls and e-mails, and the time to build a relationship. Just ask David Corn.

Corn, the Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine, on Monday wrote one of the most-talked-about stories of the 2012 presidential campaign about a video of Mitt Romney telling Republican donors at a May 17 fundraiser, among other things, that President Obama’s supporters constitute the “47 percent” of the nation who are “dependent upon the government, who believe that they are victims.”

Corn, 53, spent about four weeks coaxing the person who had surreptitiously shot the footage to hand over the full, undoctored video. It was recorded, apparently without Romney’s knowledge and via an unknown device, at the fundraiser at the home of a wealthy private-equity investor in Boca Raton, Fla.

In the end, Corn said, getting the story came down to trust.

“It takes time and a number of conversations between two people,” he said Tuesday, in one of a nearly nonstop series of interviews (“Dutch TV is waiting for me in my office!”). “As a journalist, you’re always worried about losing a scoop, by the fear that [a source] is talking to 25 other people. But you have to give it time and let the relationship develop.”

Corn, a liberal commentator on MSNBC, got a major assist from a freelance researcher, James Carter IV, who first found the snippet on YouTube. Carter suggested to Corn that there might be more in the full video held by the source. Carter, the grandson of the 39th president, also alerted the Huffington Post that a longer video might exist.

A race of sorts was on to get it.

Ultimately, Carter chose to work with Corn, with whom he had collaborated several months earlier on a Mother Jones story about Global-Tech Appliances, a Chinese company that allegedly had profited from the outsourcing of American jobs at a time when Romney’s company, Bain Capital, was investing in it during the late 1990s.

Carter, a left-leaning political researcher based in Atlanta, told reporters he stumbled across the video during a routine YouTube search. In interviews with television news shows and the Associated Press, he said he was especially glad to have unearthed the footage because Romney has frequently disparaged his grandfather’s presidency during the current campaign

“I’ve gotten a lot of Twitter messages from people supporting me and saying that it’s poetic justice that it was a Carter that uncovered this, considering the way that the Romney campaign has been talking about my grandfather,” Carter told AP. “I agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly.”

The younger Carter showed NBC an email he received from the former president about the video. The message read: “James: This is extraordinary. Congratulations! Papa”.

Through a series of private tweets and e-mails, Carter made contact with the source of the video last month. Corn then began a series of phone conversations with the source in an effort to persuade him to turn over the video and to reassure him that his anonymity would be protected.

Romney video, Libya parts of an Autumn Surprise? - Philadelphia Inquirer

Bomboy is editor-in-chief of the non-partisan National Constitution Center

The Libya crisis and the Romney campaign video are taking the Obama-Romney race in a different direction. But fall campaign surprises are hardly newâ€"as are leaks of private campaign meetings. 

The October or Autumn Surprise is a last-second major development that shifts the landscape of a presidential campaign.

In one famous case, the Iran hostage crisis of 1980 was the issue. The GOP and Ronald Reagan claimed the incumbent, Jimmy Carter, was arranging the hostages’ release to occur just days before the election.

That never happened, but the October Surprise legacyâ€"or mythâ€"endures, and now voters and the media are trying to figure out two rapid-fire developments this year.

Last week, the U.S. ambassador to Libya and four consulate workers were killed in an attack that might have been perpetrated by terroristsâ€"or by a mob upset with an obscure American-made movie.

And on Monday, the same day that Mitt Romney was to announce a new focus on foreign policy and detailed planning, two liberal websites released a May video of Romney talking bluntly about President Obama’s supporters.

In edited video supplied by a source at the fundraiser, Romney said that he couldn’t effectively campaign to 47 percent of Americans because they were dependent on government funds and “pay no income tax.”

Romney clarified his remarks at a late Monday press conference and said some of his statements were “not elegantly stated” because he was “speaking off the cuff” at the private event.

Both sides were actively spinning the Libya and Romney video stories on Tuesday.

Experts had predicted the race between President Barack Obama and Romney would get heated after the Democrats and Republicans finished their nominating conventions.

The October Surprise tradition

The tradition of an Autumn or October Surprise is now part of the expected campaign trajectory for any major presidential candidate.

In 2008, John McCain dealt with the Wall Street collapse just six weeks before Election Day, which started in mid-September. As the candidate of the incumbent party, McCain struggled with the fallout of a historic economic event right before an election.

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Jimmy Carter's grandson 1st found 'secret' Romney video -

WASHINGTON - The grandson of former President Jimmy Carter is behind the release of a secret recording of Mitt Romney that was posted Monday on a liberal magazine's website.

In the video, Romney told supporters that 47-percent will vote for President Obama because they depend on government.

James Carter the fourth told CNN's Anderson Cooper that he stumbled on the video while searching YouTube.

"I do searches, you know, regular searches just to keep up with what's being posted, just with generic search terms, Romney and Republican, for instance, there's a few more that I use, but it was just on one of those searches that it came up," James Carter said.

Romney defended the message, saying the election is a choice between big government and personal responsibility. But, he admits he could have said it "in a more effective way."

(Copyright © 2012 Cable News Network. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

James Carter IV says getting Romney video published is 'poetic justice' after ... -

Associated Press | Current TV | Politico | Bloomberg
James Carter IV made contact with the source of Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” video on Twitter, then courted him relentlessly. As Josh Lederman relays:

In a string of Internet conversations, Carter showed the source evidence that he had helped David Corn, a journalist with the magazine Mother Jones, report a story about Global-Tech Appliances Inc., a Chinese firm that Romney’s Bain Capital briefly invested in. Both Carter and the source suspected it was that firm’s factory that Romney was speaking about in the video.

We all know what happened next. Carter told Cenk Uygur on Current TV’s “The Young Turks,” “A lot of my supporters and my friends on Twitter have actually been saying that this is poetic justice for, you know, that it was a Carter that found this video that’s giving the Romney campaign so much trouble. And I agree with that.”

The former president, Lederman reported, sent his grandson an email saying in part, “This is extraordinary. Congratulations! Papa.”

“I don’t think he’s ever emailed me the word ‘extraordinary before,’ ” Carter, whose Twitter bio says he’s “Currently looking for work,” told Uygur. Lederman says Carter received a “string of job offers Tuesday, from the Ohio Democratic Party to online news sites like The Huffington Post and ThinkProgress.”

Bloomberg TV’s Matt Miller was incredulous that the video went out via Mother Jones, which he called “the National Enquirer for the left” in a conversation with Bloomberg View’s Josh Barro.

Miller: It’s like, I can’t believe that whoever made the video didn’t give it to a halfway respectable media outlet. Why not place it somewhere where most of the country would under â€" I mean, nobody knows what Mother Jones is except for the intellectual, sort of Northeastern and college crew.

Barro: First of all, I think you’re selling Mother Jones way short there. I think a lot of people like Kevin Drum and Adam Serwer are doing very good work there. But I think, you know, the question of why did this guy give it to an ideological outlet â€" I think, first of all, the tapes basically speak for themselves, so in terms of the political impact it didn’t really matter where you placed them so long as they got out into the discussion. My impression is that the guy who had the tapes had a relationship and felt comfortable with David Corn at Mother Jones and that’s why they ended up there. But I think the story is basically playing out just as it would have if they had gone out through something like The Times.

Mother Jones co-editor Clara Jeffery noted on Twitter Tuesday night that “The Daily Show”‘s Monday segment about the video didn’t credit her news organization, which got record online traffic from the video.

But does Mother Jones deserve credit for the scoop? Dylan Byers digs in on Huffington Post’s claim to the video. HuffPost, he writes, “was the first news outlet to publish a verified version of the clip, with a splash across the homepage that read, ‘Romney Leak: Obama Voters “Dependent on Government.” ‘ ”

It had part of the video and had been cajoling the source for the rest: “Our take was it was better to get the whole video than to go with a half-scoop,” Washington bureau chief Ryan Grim told Byers. “Then, when he let us know that we had lost, that he decided to give it to Corn, we rushed up the piece with what we had.”

Corn told Byers Mother Jones spent the past week verifying the video and published once it knew Huffington Post was going with the story. Grim told Byers, “Having the whole video is more important. There’s just no way I can sugar coat that.”

The result is that while Huffington Post can claim first, it is very likely that Mother Jones will claim history â€" a coup for the old media in a new-media age where a major premium is put on breaking news first.

Where Do the 47% Who Pay No Income Tax Live? - The Atlantic

Mitt Romney says citizens who don't pay income tax will never vote for him. But eight of the top 10 states with the highest number of nonpayers are red states.

Updated, September 18

The political world is in a tizzy over hidden-camera footage of Mitt Romney at a fundraising event. Here's the money quote -- literally -- from the Mother Jones scoop:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what ....These are people who pay no income tax.

The horserace implications of this statement are what the chattering class is chattering about. Unfortunately, they're also unknowable at this point. On the one hand, it's always a bad idea to disparage voters (see: Obama, Barack and clinging to guns and religion), and the soundbite helps to cement the idea that Romney is out of touch with the average American -- clearly, he's not trying to connect with nearly half of them! On the other hand, Romney is disparaging folks whose votes he's already written off.

So let's set that speculation aside and look at who the people are who actually pay no income tax. Romney's statements are a little unclear, but it appears that the 47 percent figure represents all of those who pay no income tax, rather than the Democratic base. His problem is that those people are disproportionately in red states -- that is, states that tend to vote Republican:


One important note about these numbers: This measures only those Americans who filed for taxes with no liability. Millions more didn't even file; it's those millions, added to the estimated 52 million here, who combine to make that 47 percent.

It's important to remember that just because people aren't paying income tax doesn't mean they're not paying taxes -- they pay federal payroll taxes and state and local sales taxes, for example. Once those taxes are factored in, the tax regime is basically flat. And the reason that most income tax nonpayers don't pay is they simply don't make enough income to qualify to pay. As one might expect, the map of states with the highest poverty levels resembles this map fairly closely. Many of them are also seniors, a highly contested voting bloc. Just more than 10 percent of households pay no income tax because they're retired. They might also be voters in places like Florida who are already jumpy about the changes to Medicare and Medicaid that the Romney-Ryan ticket has proposed -- although they would be mostly unaffected by those reforms.

So Romney appears to be wrong about these voters. But if calling for a less progressive taxation system was enough to alienate poor voters in the Deep South, the Republican Party would have already lost its stronghold there.

Update: My colleague Derek Thompson picks up the baton from me and digs deeper into the demographics of the so-called 47 percent. One important note he makes is that it's often the lowest-income people in these red states who are most likely to vote Democratic -- it's just that the rest of the population is conservative enough to carry the states into the Republican column.

In 2008, Obama lost Georgia by 5 percentage points but he won 70% of voters who earned less than $30,000 -- which is precisely the demo most likely to owe no federal income tax. Obama lost Mississippi by 14 percentage points, but picked up 66% of voters who earned less than $30,000. As a general rule, Republicans win among richer voters -- both in the red states and the blue.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip: Matt O'Brien

Democratic super PAC launches ads in four new districts - The Hill (blog)

A super-PAC geared towards helping Democrats take the majority in the House is launching ads in four new districts today, targeting incumbents in New Hampshire, Illinois and Ohio, and a Republican candidate in Washington.

In New Hampshire, the House Majority PAC's ad targets Rep. Charlie Bass (R) for his support of Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) budget, which it calls his "plan to essentially end Medicare" -- highlighting Bass' comments that he voted for the plan "because it is a great statement of principle." The ad is running in the Manchester broadcast and Boston cable networks for a two-week buy worth $440,000.

Rep. Jim Renacci (R), running against Rep. Betty Sutton (D) in Ohio's 16th district, is accused of voting to support tax breaks for the oil industry while also owning hundreds of thousands of stock in oil companies in the super PAC's ad there. It will run on a $400,000 ad buy for a week and a half in Cleveland, and comes just a few days after Republican super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund launched its first ad targeting Sutton.

In Washington, women are the focus of an ad attacking "Tea Party politician" John Koster, which highlights the "radical" Tea Party agenda on issues like access to birth control, funding planned parenthood and repealing abortion rights. Democrat Suzan DelBene has attempted to make women's issues a focus in the campaign. It's running for two weeks in Seattle on a $380,000 ad buy.

In Illinois, House Majority PAC is launching a $110,000 ad buy that highlights Rep. Bobby Schilling's record during his first term in office, citing what it characterizes as his vote against tax cuts, to increase the debt and to "reward" companies that outsource jobs overseas. Schilling is the target of a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ad as well, that highlights essentially the same aspects of his record, arguing that he's turned "from one of us, to one of them, in record time."

But the National Republican Congressional Committee is backing Schilling with a new ad framing Democrat Cheri Bustos as an out-of-touch "millionaire city councilwoman" who voted to waste money on a road "connecting her street to her local country club."

Poll: Obama job approval numbers back up above 50 percent, but race with ... - Washington Post

WASHINGTON â€" Americans are feeling markedly better about the country’s future and about Barack Obama’s job performance, but the president’s re-election race against Republican Mitt Romney remains a neck-and-neck proposition as Election Day creeps ever closer, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

Buoyed by good mojo coming out of last month’s national political conventions, Obama’s approval rating is back above 50 percent for the first time since May, and the share of Americans who think the country is moving in the right direction is at its highest level since just after the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011.

Romney, his campaign knocked off-stride in recent weeks, has lost his pre-convention edge on the top issue of the campaign â€" the economy.

The poll results vividly underscore the importance that turnout will play in determining the victor in Campaign 2012: Among all adults, Obama has a commanding lead, favored by 52 percent of Americans to just 37 percent for Romney. Yet among those most likely to vote, the race is drum tight.

Obama is supported by 47 percent of likely voters and Romney by 46 percent, promising an all-out fight to the finish by the two campaigns to gin up enthusiasm among core supporters and dominate get-out-the-vote operations. That’s an area where Obama claimed a strong advantage in 2008 and Republicans reigned four years earlier.

Americans have been increasingly focused on the presidential race since the two candidates barreled out of their summer conventions into the fall campaign: Nearly three-fourths of adults say they’re paying close attention now, up modestly from earlier in the summer. And with early voting scheduled to be under way in two dozen states by week’s end, just 17 percent of likely voters remain undecided or say that they might change their minds.

Count Sandra Townsend, a 57-year-old retiree from Brookings, Ore., among the 84 percent of likely voters who say their decision in this campaign has been an easy one.

“I like what Obama does,” she said flatly.

Townsend, a Democrat, said she’ll watch the upcoming presidential debates closely but adds, “No, I’m not going to change my mind.”

Sixty-eight-year-old Vicki Deakins, a Republican sizing up the race from Garland, Texas, is equally certain in her choice of Romney. But she exudes more enthusiasm for GOP running mate Paul Ryan than for Romney himself.

“I don’t know that Romney knows how to state emphatically, with fire and passion and guts and all that other stuff, what he wants to do,” she says. “I don’t think he’ll be a great orator. But I do think he’ll get the job done.”

Among those voters still making up their minds or open to changing their positions â€" the coveted bloc of “persuadable” voters â€" 56 percent see their choice this year as a hard decision.

Twenty-three-year-old Devin Vinson of Starksville, Mass., says he’s waiting to hear more about the candidates’ positions on education, foreign policy and more.

Vinson, a Republican, is leaning toward Obama but says the close race has him weighing his decision this time more carefully than four years ago, when his family persuaded him to back Republican John McCain.