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Mitt Romney's comments went unnoticed for months on YouTube

12:54 PM, Sep 19, 2012   |    comments
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(USA TODAY) -- Mitt Romney's comments at a Florida fundraiser were online for months before Mother Jones and Jimmy Carter's grandson turned them into a front page news story.

The first clips of the surreptitious recording taken at a Boca Raton fundraiser May 17 were posted anonymously on YouTube May 31. Other audio clips followed, including Romney's calling Obama voters "dependent on government." But they went unnoticed until Monday afternoon.

By Tuesday, when the full 70-minute video recording was posted by Mother Jones magazine, the story had made the network evening news, the front page of most large U.S. newspapers and a non-stop topic on cable news.

See Also: Jimmy Carter's grandson arranged Romney video release

The story was propelled from the comments section to full media explosion only when the video had been obtained and vetted by Mother Jones Washington bureau chief David Corn. Mother Jones also made the editorial decision to highlight Romney's comments about Obama voters rather than the YouTube poster's focus on Romney's comments on factory worker conditions in China.

The earlier post of Romney's comments "wasn't registering. It was getting the actual real video that was the coup here. It made the story undeniable and unavoidable,'' Corn said in an interview Tuesday. "If you don't have visual -- you have audio, and you don't know when it happened -- it's hard for it to get legs. Video sells.''

The story also got a hand from James Carter IV, grandson of former President Jimmy Carter. An Atlanta resident, self-described on Twitter as an unemployed "oppo researcher,'' he had helped Corn with previous reporting on Bain Capital, Romney's company, and put Corn in touch with the person who shot the video. "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 the Associated Press. "I agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly."

The source of the video remains unknown: Corn will only say that it is "a person who was in the room'' during the event. The magazine paid "a nominal amount" for the source to consult a lawyer, Mother Jones co-editor Clara Jeffery said.

The Huffington Post also obtained parts of the video and put it online Monday.

"To say they (the clips) had been around is accurate, but it's a tree falls kind of thing,'' Jeffery said.

Mother Jones did not want to publish the video until it was sure "that we knew under what manner this person was able to obtain it and that we felt confident that we had a full tape that hadn't been manipulated in any way," she said.

''Traffic on Mother Jones' website spiked to 2 million pageviews Monday, nearly ten times its 250,000 daily average, Jeffery said.

"It took somebody to take notice. Even with the new media there's still a ratification process,'' said Ed Wasserman,journalism ethics professor at Washington and Lee University. "The system is more porous than it was, but there are some gates it has to pass through.''

While Mother Jones is a politically liberal magazine, funded by a nonprofit organization and named for a turn-of-the-century union organizer, posting the raw video removes any question about the validity of a negative story about Romney from a liberal source, Wasserman says. "There would have been enormous pushback if they'd simply been taking someone's word for it. It would be seen as a highly ideologically tainted source.''

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