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2012-09-20

Mother Jones Reporter David Corn on Revealing the Secret Romney Video That’s Upended 2012 Campaign

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Mother Jones reporter David Corn joins us to discuss how he released the now notorious video of Mitt Romney telling a crowd of wealthy donors in Florida that he does not worry about the 47 percent of Americans who are "dependent" on government and see themselves as "victims." Romney’s comments have divided Republicans, with some saying he should stand by his statements and others suggesting he should renounce them. The Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones, Corn is also the author of "Showdown: The Inside Story of How Obama Battled the GOP to Set Up the 2012 Election." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in Freeport, Illinois. That’s right, we are broadcasting just outside a factory, the Sensata factory, owned by Bain Capital, the private equity firm founded by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. The factory is scheduled to be closed at the end of November and move to China. Later in the broadcast, we’ll speak with the workers here who will soon lose their jobs, but first we turn to the campaign trail.

On Wednesday, during an interview with the Spanish-language television station Univision, Mitt Romney said his presidential campaign was about helping all Americans.

MITT ROMNEY: My campaign is about the 100 percent in American, and I’m concerned about them. I’m concerned about the fact that over the past four years life has become harder for Americans. More people have fallen into poverty. More people, we just learned, are—have had to go on to food stamps. When the president took office, 32 million people were on food stamps; today 47 million people are on food stamps. Now, I know that I’m not going to get 100 percent of the vote, and my campaign will focus on those people we think we can bring in to support me. But this is a campaign about helping people who need help.

AMY GOODMAN: Mitt Romney’s statement came two days after Mother Jones magazine released the now notorious video of Romney telling a crowd of wealthy donors in Florida that he doesn’t worry about the 47 percent of Americans who are, quote, "dependent" on government and see themselves as, quote, "victims."

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’re entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you-name-it, that that’s—it’s entitlement, and the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. And that—I mean, the president starts off with 48, 49, 48—he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. So he’ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean, that’s what they sell every four years. And so, my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. What I have to do is convince the 5 to 10 percent in the center.

AMY GOODMAN: Mitt Romney’s comments have divided Republicans, with some saying he should stand by his statements and others suggesting he should renounce them.

For more, we’re joined by David Corn. He’s the Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine and the man largely responsible for bringing attention to this secret Romney video. He’s also the author of Showdown: The Inside Story of How Obama Fought Back Against Boehner, Cantor, and the Tea Party. The new paperback edition is out this week.

David Corn, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s good to have you with us. Talk about how you got this videotape and the significance of what’s on it. It’s certainly created a firestorm.

DAVID CORN: Yeah, yes, it seems to have done so. And thanks for having me, Amy, and thanks for mentioning the book.

There have been a lot of good stories written already in the last day or two—it’s amazing how fast things move—on how we got this story at Mother Jones. But the short version is that I had done a lot of reporting, as you know, on Bain and Mitt Romney’s investments, including in companies that are outsourcing jobs to China and elsewhere, which is why it’s kind of appropriate to be talking to you this morning, given where you are, and that in the course of doing that, I hooked up with a freelance researcher named James Carter. It’s funny, he’s the grandson of Jimmy Carter, although at the time I didn’t know that. And he pointed me toward some SEC, Securities Exchange Commission, documents that were relevant to my work.

And as we were discussing things, we discussed this little clip of a video that appeared mysteriously on the internet, posted anonymously, that showed Mitt Romney at a fundraiser discussing a trip that he had made to an overseas factory in China when he was considering investing in a company over there. And it seemed related to the work that I’d been doing. And James said, "Maybe we should find the person who put up this video up and see if he had anything else, you know, about China, about any other aspect of Bain and Mitt Romney’s investments." And I said, "Please, James, go ahead." And, you know, it didn’t take him too long to make contact with the anonymous person who had done this, and he asked that person if this person would talk to me about what was on the tape. So James never got the tape, but he put me in touch with the source.

And then—and this was mid-August, late August, and over the course of, you know, a week or two, I became confident in the source, the source became confident in me, and I eventually convinced the source to share with me the whole video, and then we had conversations about what to release and how to release it in a way to protect the source’s anonymity. And so, that all took a couple weeks. And the timing was just—you know, basically as fast as we could authenticate the tape and be assured that what we had was real was as fast as we at _Mother Jones put it up, and it got up this Monday afternoon. And a lot of people watching your show, listening, know what’s happened since.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, speaking on Neil Cavuto’s Fox News show on Tuesday, Mitt Romney tried to clarify what he meant by saying that 47 percent of Americans pay no income tax.

MITT ROMNEY: Well, first of all, of course, you’re right: there are a number of retirees, members of the military and so forth who aren’t paying taxes, and that’s as it should be. But—but I do believe that we should have enough jobs and enough take-home pay such that people have the privilege of higher incomes that allow them to be paying taxes. I think people would like to be paying taxes. The good news is, if you’re doing well enough financially, that you can pay a tax. And the problem right now, as you see in this country, so many people have fallen into poverty that they’re not paying taxes. They have to rely on government. And the right course to help them is not just to have government handing out, but instead government helping people to get back to good jobs.

AMY GOODMAN: Mitt Romney went on to claim that seniors who don’t pay income taxes still support him because of his position on Medicare.

MITT ROMNEY: We go after every group we can to get votes, and seniors are of course people who I’m getting in large numbers. I’ve got great support from seniors, because they’re unhappy with the fact that President Obama’s "Obamacare" cuts Medicare by $716 billion.

AMY GOODMAN: David Corn, if you could continue talking about—

DAVID CORN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —his original comments and how he’s trying to clarify.

DAVID CORN: Well, he got really close in that comment, I think, to saying, "And if you really do well financially, you only have to pay 13 percent in income taxes." But he didn’t quite say that. This is classic bait and switch. You know, he’s trying to make, you know, lemonade out of—out of turds, to be kind of crude about it. I mean, if you—you know, the great thing about this story, one thing that I take pleasure in, is that you don’t have to take my word or anyone else’s word, you can watch the tape again and again and again and see what Mitt Romney’s saying. And in those remarks, he shows—I think you can only call it contempt or disdain for 47 percent of the public. He doesn’t just say, you know, "There’s an issue here that they don’t make enough to pay taxes, and I’ve got to lift their incomes. That’s what I’m in this race for." He calls them moochers, parasites, people who do not take personal responsibility for their own lives.

He also conflates a couple of different subsets. There are the 47 percent of people who voted for—of the electorate that voted for Obama. He lumps them all together into this parasitic victim class. He then says there are 47 percent of people who don’t pay taxes. That’s sort of a different subset, but he’s lumping them all together. And then he says there are people who get benefits. You know, he doesn’t say 47 percent, but again lumping them together, including people who get Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, assistance from the Veterans Administration, perhaps even, you know, farm subsidies and corporate welfare. So, he’s basically creating this caste for the election, in which the—you know, the politics is divided between those of us in this room, strivers, people who have made what we made purely on our own initiative, and the rest of the—you know, of America, who are moochers who want to basically be parasites living off us. There is really no other way to see that tape. It just shows his disdain for all of—you know, for half of America, when he claims to want to be president for all of America.

And yet, you know, he’s coming out of this, he has to say something. He can’t say, "Yeah, that’s what I meant." So he’s saying, "Well, I was concerned about the level of entitlements and about people not making enough money." But it’s pretty clear. I mean, he wouldn’t still be explaining three days out if the tape didn’t really show the real Romney.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I mean, David, he wouldn’t have held a news conference the night that you released this videotape, late at night, which was quite remarkable, demanding you release the whole thing, which you did on the Mother Jones website.

DAVID CORN: I mean, how many—

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think—

DAVID CORN: Yes, yeah—

AMY GOODMAN: —it mitigated against—

DAVID CORN: Yeah, people—I’m sorry to interrupt. Yeah, but people can go to motherjones.com and watch the clips we put up about this, about what he said about the Middle East, about what he said about other things involving politics, or they can sit through the entire, you know, video that we put up, which is about 70 minutes long, and see the whole thing.

I mean, how many times has Mitt Romney held a press conference, you know, on this campaign? That Monday night, he realized that this was an issue. I mean, I was on Larry Kudlow’s show last night, and, as Joe Biden might say, "Bless him." But, you know, Larry was saying that this is good for Mitt Romney: this will concentrate him and force him to talk about how America has turned into an entitlement society. Well, fine, you do that, while you’re trying to campaign and win over the votes of people on Medicare in Ohio and Florida, and after these dismissive remarks. I mean, if Mitt Romney took Larry Kudlow’s advice, he’d be even worse off, I think, in the polls, as he is this morning.

The immediate polls after this remark are showing that Americans are turning away from Mitt Romney. Now, I’m not making any predictions about what’s going to happen on Election Day; I think there’s still a long time to go and that this is essentially a 50-50 proposition down into that first Tuesday in November. But nevertheless, I mean, Mitt Romney seems to be flailing. He didn’t—he didn’t really apologize for the remarks. He said they were "inelegant." He said they were "off the cuff." But "off the cuff" usually means from the heart. And he doubled down on them, but he’s distancing himself. He’s trying to turn them into something else. His own running mate—I mean, I can’t remember when I’ve seen this in the past—you know, called these remarks "inarticulate." So he kind of slapped Mitt Romney on the wrist.

You know, Ann Romney came out, and as Joe Biden again would say, "God bless her," and said these remarks were taken out of context. Excuse me, Mrs. Romney, they were not. You can watch the tape. There was—he answered the question directly. The question was, basically, how can you get people who are entitlements to vote for you before the general election? How can you persuade them? And this is the answer he gave. Nothing taken out of context. So, the Mitt Romney campaign, again, you know, has resorted to the usual dodge and the usual type of spin, but they can’t ignore what we at motherjones.com put up there. And it still reverberates.

AMY GOODMAN: David Corn, you wrote a piece in July about Mitt Romney and Bain and outsourcing jobs to China. As you’ve heard, we’re broadcasting from the fairgrounds across the street from a Bain Capital-owned company called Sensata that is doing just that.

DAVID CORN: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: They’re closing up the company within a month or two, and the people here—actually, in a few weeks—will all lose their jobs. And we’re going to be talking with a number of them, including the mayor of Freeport. But what you have found in your research?

DAVID CORN: Well, I’ve written several stories. You know, there’s a lot of talk about when Mitt Romney left Bain and what’s he responsible for. But putting all that aside, I wrote a series of stories that showed, when he was clearly leading Bain, an affiliate of—one of Bain’s subsidiaries, affiliates, was making massive investments, tens of millions of dollars, in companies that were based in here and China that were pioneers in outsourcing. One was this company in China called Global-Tech that made appliances for places like Hamilton, Proctor-Silex, basically taking advantage of the trend in outsourcing, where instead of making these things in American factories, they were being made in China. And then, he also invested in two other companies that basically were brokering deals in China, Mexico and elsewhere, setting up factories that would outsource not low-tech or medium-tech jobs, but high-tech jobs, you know, making things for Microsoft, Intel.

And listen, he was a businessman. You know, Bain was a business entity. They saw the trend. The trend was moving manufacturing, first easy manufacturing, appliances, and then high-tech manufacturing, to low-wage factories in—you know, in Europe, in Ireland, in Mexico, in China, you know, in Thailand, all sorts of places. And they took advantage of that. But he’s just not owning up to that. You know, he’s not fully explaining what he was doing, what he was thinking about at the time. And instead, he says, "I’m for jobs, jobs, jobs in America." That’s not the record. It’s clearly not the record when he was at Bain. You know, he could have eschewed those investments and looked to invest in America, and made maybe less money than they did, but he chose not to. He chose to maximize profits by exploiting the trend towards outsourcing, and even investing in companies that were pushing the envelope. They were pioneers in outsourcing. And that’s just part of the Bain legacy, let alone what happened with some of the companies here that went bankrupt or downsized and forced—you know, and forced people to—basically out the door.

AMY GOODMAN: And as you point out, repeatedly says, as he did in February, "We will not let China continue to steal jobs from the United States of America."

DAVID CORN: Yeah, he’s really in a poor position to talk about that.

AMY GOODMAN: But that’s, of course, he’s running for president.

DAVID CORN: I mean, and, you know, if I can put the tape and some of this into a larger context, which will also allow me to pitch my book, I mean, what’s really kind of interesting to watch play out now, at least from my perspective, is my book Showdown looks at the—how the White House and Barack Obama responded to the drubbing that the Democrats took in November of 2010. And it goes over the tax deal; the budget deal; the debt deal; "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," the repeal of which the first anniversary is happening today; and Egypt; Libya—all these things that happened in the year and a half after November 2010.

And one overarching theme is that the president, whether you like him or not, whether you agree or disagree with some of his policy actions in that frame of time, saw the tea party come in and believed that it would go too far, and that, you know, the way that he could set up a frame, a narrative, for the 2012 election that would be beneficial to him and his fellow Democrats was to set this up as a contest of values, that, you know, the tea party would be Ayn Randian-type libertarians that want to downsize government and really throw people off these entitlement and social safety programs or privatize Medicare and say, you know, more of the "you’re on your own" society, we have to depend on liberty and initiative, while he would make the case, as he did through the budget cut fights, the debt ceiling fights and up until today, that, you know, we need to have government as a progressive force in which we come together and make smart investments in education, infrastructure, innovation, to keep the economy, you know, recovery, as weak as it is, heading in the right direction, while preserving the social safety net.

Now, he’s made allowances, and he’s tried to cut compromises on some of this stuff, that progressives don’t like, but overall, he’s put together, you know, a more progressive framework in talking about our communal values as a country versus Mitt Romney’s libertarian or "you’re on your own" or "let business run free, and that will maximize outcomes" — well, for some Americans. And that’s really—the way Mitt Romney has run his campaign, he has allowed the president, I think, more opportunities to make that case, that we have a different set of values here. And then the 47 percent remark, which came—you know, which we put out this week, really, I think, you know, puts a very stark delineation here between, you know, a campaign or a perspective, the Obama perspective, that we have to care for 100 percent of the people—we can’t just, you know, throw them off entitlements—and Mitt Romney, who wants to—you know, who really believes that society is being burdened by too much government being demanded by too many parasites.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, David, was it the people who were serving the food who got a copy—who made this recording? It looked like it was in the flowers on the buffet table, because you kept see the waiters in front of them. Or was it one of the wealthy donors themselves?

DAVID CORN: Yeah, you know, I can’t characterize the source. It was obviously someone in the room. But, you know, you have to think—you know, if you watch Mitt Romney, you know, he’s in a room with people like him. The host of the event is a guy named Marc Leder, who is another private equity guy. In fact, he got into private equity years ago after visiting Bain and being inspired, being jazzed by what Mitt Romney was doing. So this is a guy who throws, literally, sex parties in Bridgehampton and is, you know, pretty different than Mitt Romney in a lot of ways, but he’s very much like him in terms of, you know, the way he’s made his living with private equity deals, some of which have led to factories being shut down and layoffs, just the same story that you’re telling today about Bain.

And so, they get together in this room—and I’m not saying, you know, who the source was, but there are people who are serving food, there are people who are parking cars, there are people who are cleaning up, there are people who are, you know, maybe security—I don’t know—there, who are not making a lot of money. And they talk in these terms as if the help doesn’t exist. And I had a cameraman come up to me just a day ago saying he used to film events like these for the people holding them, and he said he was amazed at how they talked as if nobody else was in the room. He did this years ago. He said, "If I had had a iPhone back in those days, I would have ratted them out in a second, made my own copy of a videotape." But it just shows that they’re in this rarefied atmosphere.

I mean, Mitt Romney often doesn’t speak in public, it seems, in a way that’s at ease, that shows passion or conviction. When he made that 47 percent remark, he was showing, at least to my eye, a lot of passion, a lot of conviction, a guy who’s—you know, who’s talking with people the way he’s used to talking with them, not under the glare of spotlights or media scrutiny. And I think that’s the tell here. And again, people can come to motherjones.com—I’ll promote it again—they can come to my Twitter feed, DavidCornDC. I’ll put up links, make it quite easy, when I get back to my office. And just watch this for yourself. If you haven’t seen it, I mean, I think it’s very revelatory.

AMY GOODMAN: David, I want to thank you very much for being with us, and I’d like to have you back on to talk more extensively about your book, Showdown: The Inside Story of How Obama Battled the GOP to Set Up the 2012 Election, out this week in paperback. David Corn is the Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones, the magazine that broke this story about Mitt Romney’s fundraiser, the secret video. Thank you so much for being with us.

When we come back, well, we’re here in Freeport, Illinois, with Bain workers. Bain Capital, which owns Sensata, is closing the plant that they have worked at for decades. They’ve gotten their pink notices. They’re out in November. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

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