How 'Mother Jones' Got The Secret '47 Percent' Video

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On Monday, Mother Jones magazine released a video of Mitt Romney making controversial remarks at a private fundraising event. Audie Cornish talks to David Folkenflik about how the magazine got and verified the video.


Mother Jones magazine is known for its small but passionate following of liberal readers. And right now, it's getting a huge amount of attention. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us now for more on Mother Jones and how it got this story. Hi there, David.


CORNISH: So this video of Mitt Romney was recorded a while back. Some of the clips were living on YouTube months ago. So what did Mother Jones do to acquire the story and get so much attention for it now?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief, David Corn, had done some reporting on Bain Corporation's - excuse me, the Bain company outfit that Mitt Romney had headed its ventures in China, and James Carter IV saw that and sent David Corn a couple of leads. And if that name's familiar, it should be. James Carter is the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter. He said, look, I think there's some video out there that may refer to some of the companies and enterprises you were talking about that refer to Mitt Romney.

Carter was particularly upset, it seems. He's told reporters today about a number of the disparaging remarks that Mitt Romney has made on the campaign trail about his grandfather. And he volunteered to reach out to a person who more recently has gone under the name Ann Onimous(ph), that is anonymous, and posted those videos online. He succeeded. He coaxed this person into talking to Corn. And Corn, over the course of several weeks, convinced this person to let editors and for him to view the raw video of this event back in May in Florida, the fund-raising event that we're talking about.

Corn said it really struck him. I spoke with him earlier today and here's how he characterized his reaction.

DAVID CORN: I'm pretty jaded about this stuff, but that was very surprising to me that Mitt Romney would speak in such stark terms. I mean, I interpret them as contemptuous. Others can reach their own conclusions. And the great thing about this is you can watch it. You can see it. You can watch it. You can make your own conclusions.

FOLKENFLIK: And a lot of people did just that, journalists and regular Americans alike.

CORNISH: So what's new about what Mother Jones did with this tape?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, as you mentioned, I mean, some of these clips had lived online, on YouTube weeks, even a couple of months earlier. But what they were able to do was by viewing the entire video and ultimately leveraging their knowledge into getting it in full online, they could identify the day and place of the event, they could offer the context of some of Mr. Romney's remarks, they can offer some juxtaposing facts that they thought vitiated against the argument he was making.

They initially blurred things to try to protect the identity of the source, the person who had taped it, but ultimately, yesterday they were able to get release from that obligation and you can see Romney in the event itself. Huffington Post, I may say, also tried to get a place of the glory in learning that Mother Jones obtained the full tape. They rushed to put some excerpts of the tape online themselves.

CORNISH: Now, while conservatives have criticized Romney for what he said, there are many others who have also argued that Mother Jones is essentially working as a wing of the Obama camp now. How fair is that, that assessment?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it's certainly the case that the journalists at Mother Jones, they call themselves progressive. Other might call them liberal or of the left. But they see themselves as journalists. I spoke to both Corn and also Monika Bauerlein. She's the co-editor of Mother Jones magazine. They said they posted this as quickly as possible. It took them some weeks from the original contact to obtaining the full video, to getting their video people to view it to make sure that it hadn't been doctored in some way.

They said this was a scoop they feared could get away from them. They rushed to do it, did not collude with the Obama campaign. And David Corn joked, although I think he was serious about it, to say their only timing element was to make sure not to release it on the morning of Rosh Hashanah because so many people might be away from the office that morning.

CORNISH: And just a few seconds left, David, was this a boost to the magazine?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it was a huge thing. It sort of broke the needle in Monika Bauerlein's phrase. The software couldn't keep up. They say it's well over 2 million page views online, more than 2.7 million views of the video on YouTube itself. A big day for crusading publication even if it's been a tough 24 hours, 36 hours for Mitt Romney himself.

CORNISH: NPR media correspondent, David Folkenflik. David, thank you.


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