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.

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