Moment that mattered: Mitt Romney loses the US presidential election
“Mother Jones is seen as a leftie magazine but we don’t root for a team when it comes to politics – a bunch of us have major objections to President Obama. I’d say we were more excited than we were happy or relieved when the election results came through because we’re political junkies and we live for this stuff.
I think Obama would have won regardless of whether we had published the ‘47 percent’ video [in which Mitt Romney said he wasn’t worried about the 47 percent of Americans who were dependent on the government]. The economy wasn’t strong but it wasn’t weak enough to beat the incumbent, and Obama ran a far better campaign. But the video was very damaging. Time is one of the most important resources you have in a campaign and when Romney should have been raising funds, setting the agenda and putting his opponent on the defensive, he had to spend two weeks dealing with the fallout. The Romney team are still sore about it. Just the other day Stuart Stevens from the Romney campaign was complaining about us winning the Polk Award for political reporting, saying that there wasn’t any real reporting involved in releasing a tape.
He’s wrong. The negotiations to get the tape went on for weeks and we then had to check its authenticity, confirm the identity of the sender, blur out the faces of everybody in the room, and check all our facts. It came together because I’d been doing some reporting with David Corn [Washington DC bureau chief] on Bain Capital and these SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission] documents, which showed that Romney was signing docs as Bain CEO and president after he said he’d left the company. These stories had attracted the attention of a researcher, James Carter, who’s Jimmy Carter’s grandson.
With the help of James we became aware of a clip circulating of what appeared to be Romney off-guardedly speaking about labour conditions in China and we wondered if there could be more to this video. James found the email address of the Twitter account associated with the clip and David reached out to them. After several false starts we received it on a USB key inside a blank Hallmark greeting card. When David got to the ‘47 percent’ quote he had to rewind and watch it again because he couldn’t believe Romney had actually said it. He knew it would be a big deal. Over the years Romney’s opponents have tried to portray him as an out-of-touch plutocrat and here was the evidence confirming these suspicions.
The office was full of adrenaline when we published the story on the Monday afternoon. We’d been intending to run it the following day but Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post had found an audio version and published the story. So we had to act quickly and our video was online within 45 minutes. The thing about the video is that you don’t have to trust Mother Jones to believe it, you can see it for yourself.
Twenty years ago I don’t think this tape would have had the same impact. It probably wouldn’t even have come out. Our competition on breaking this story was the Huffington Post, not the Washington Post. There was a surge in hate mail but that goes with the raised profile. There was a great moment the day after we published the story when the postman came in the office ‘Did Mother Jones put it all on Mr Romney?’ he said. ‘Oh yes, she did!’ And then he disappeared”
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