MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We're going to start the program today talking about that secret recording of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney making what he, himself, has now called inelegant remarks to a group of wealthy donors about Obama voters, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and his connection to Mexico.
In a few minutes, we'll talk with two seasoned analysts for their perspective on what the effect of all this might be on the presidential race. But first, let's talk about the video itself. The progressive magazine "Mother Jones" has been releasing portions of the video on its website. This is the one that's been getting the most attention so far. Here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF RECORDED REMARKS)
MITT ROMNEY: 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 that 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 - it's an entitlement, and that government should give it to them.
MARTIN: David Corn is the Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones." He broke this story. And I spoke with him earlier today, by phone.
David, thanks so much for joining us.
DAVID CORN: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: So the video itself was taped in May - do I have that right?
CORN: Yeah, May 17, at a fundraiser in Boca Raton, hosted by private equity manager Mark Leder.
MARTIN: Why release it now? Why not back in May?
CORN: I didn't have it back in May. The source of the video was someone who was actually - well, obviously, was in the room. And - as has been written about, and reported - this person had put up some audio clips and some blurry video of certain segments of this, over the course of the last few months; none of - you know, very little of it getting any real attention. One clip - about Romney taking a trip to China - was the one that sort of got a little bit of attention. But I, you know, spent a couple weeks this summer with the help of an assistant - freelance research assistant, named James Carter; trying to, you know, make contact with this person to determine what he or she, you know, might have - in addition to what had sort of leaked out - and not gotten much attention.
And it was only after that, and after convincing the source to trust me enough to give me the full video, that we had what you are now playing - and what people are seeing at motherjones.com, and every place else in the media. So it really was not a matter of anybody sitting on this for months. There was - you know, it came out the way it came out just because I got the video when I got the video.
MARTIN: And you've seen the whole thing at this point?
CORN: Oh, yeah. I've watched the whole thing. It's about 70 minutes, including maybe 15, 20 minutes of them sitting and eating, when he - when Mitt Romney's not talking. And as you kindly mentioned earlier - I mean, there were other video clips that we posted yesterday that are, I think, interesting. And then we posted a whole new set today in which Mitt Romney talks, you know, talks about Israel and says that he doesn't - basically says he doesn't believe in the Mideast process or the two-state solution - which is not what he says in public. That raises a whole 'nother set of questions.
MARTIN: So, yes. There was the portion where he says resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is almost unthinkable - as he says it. He says - there's also a portion where he talks about the fact that his father was born in Mexico, and he - his father, George Romney, the former governor of Michigan and auto executive. And Mitt Romney says he'd have an easier time in the election if he were Mexican-American. So why not release the whole thing?
CORN: Well, at first - you know, it's 8 gigabytes, is one reason. But - and Mitt Romney says that he'd like to see the whole tape, and you know what? He may get his wish. That's as much as I can say, at the moment - right now. But I had an agreement with the source, initially, to do certain clips that I, essentially, chose. I mean, much of this is exactly what you would think Mitt Romney would say at a fundraiser. It's just sort of boilerplate, and it is not really all that interesting. But, you know, for news value and to sort of, you know, focus, you know, people's attention, we picked what we thought were the most newsworthy clips, and we put them out yesterday. And we put out the foreign policy-related ones today. And as I say, you know, he's called for the whole tape and he - you know, he may get that wish.
MARTIN: I do have to ask you if you're willing to tell us who the source is. It's only fair.
CORN: Well, yeah. You have to ask. But I've not been cleared to say who the source is.
MARTIN: Can you tell us anything about the source - like, what his relationship to the story is?
CORN: Yeah. I can say a little bit about this. Yeah. The person did not go there looking to catch Mitt Romney in the act - as a hit job, as a penetration, as an infiltration. The person, you know, was at the fundraiser, and thought it was just kind of - he was just kind of curious about what Mitt Romney would say; and thought, you know, that it'd be worthwhile setting up a camera and just seeing. And so...
MARTIN: Was he a guest?
MARTIN: Was he a guest - he or she?
CORN: I'm not going to say anything beyond that. And - ended up with material that the source, you know, was actually stunned by.
MARTIN: Did you ever consider not releasing it? You'll remember that there are a number of people on the progressive side of the aisle who feel that, you know, remarks that they've made privately were taken out of context. I mean, most famously - let's say, for the moment - President Obama, in the 2008 campaign, was recorded by a blogger saying his - you know, famous remark about people being embittered, and clinging to guns and religion. I mean, the Republican vice presidential nominee is repeating those - Paul Ryan is repeating those comments on the campaign trail even now.
MARTIN: Did you ever considering not releasing it because people might think it's not fair?
CORN: Well, I thought that if you provide the full breadth of the remarks, that there's no issue of anything being taken out of context. We, you know, made sure to, you know, explain what the question was, and let Mitt Romney speak for himself. I think, you know, it's - certainly to me - in the annals of journalism, a public service to report what presidential candidates say; particularly when it doesn't jibe with what they may be saying in public. This was Mitt Romney unplugged
And I have to say - and I said a moment ago, you know, that there were - this video is about 70 minutes long or so; as I watched it, a lot of it was sort of the boilerplate. But when I got to that remark - you know, I'm pretty jaded about this sort of thing, but I was, you know, surprised that Romney would go that far in expressing, you know, what I consider to be disdain - people can watch the tape, and judge for themselves - for such a large part of the American electorate. He wasn't just saying there are some people out there who are moochers; and they're going to vote for Barack Obama, and we can't reach them. He was equating all Obama voters with this class of Americans who feel entitled to everything; who don't take personal responsibility, who don't pay taxes, think they're victims. And to me, he was like, talking about the election as if it's a clash between the strivers - those of us who succeed on our individual merit - and the others who just want to take and are parasites, moochers.
And you know, I know a lot of people who voted for Barack Obama; pay pretty hefty tax bills. And I bet you there are a lot of people on Medicare, or maybe veterans' assistance and disability, Social Security, who will be voting for Mitt Romney.
CORN: So he was just flat-out wrong in his analysis.
MARTIN: OK. We'll look forward to hearing - seeing the whole tape when it emerges. Thanks, David. David Corn is the Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" magazine. He's also the author of "Showdown: The Inside Story of How Obama Battled the GOP to Set Up the 2012 Election." It's actually out in paperback today. David, thank you.
CORN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.