A secretly recorded video of Mitt Romney speaking at a fundraiser about the "47 percent of the country who are dependent on government," put out last night by the liberal magazine Mother Jones, calls into question whether Romney is "at base, an empathetic and caring man." That's according to the New York Times, which rushed the Monday night breaking news onto Tuesday morning's front page in a story by Michael Shear and Michael Barbaro, "In Video Clip, Romney Calls 47% ‘Dependent’ and Feeling Entitled ."
During a private reception with wealthy donors this year, Mitt Romney described almost half of Americans as “people who pay no income tax” and are “dependent upon government.” Those voters, he said, would probably support President Obama because they believe they are “victims” who are “entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”
In a brief and hastily called news conference Monday just after 10 p.m., Mr. Romney acknowledged having made the blunt political and cultural assessment, saying it was “not elegantly stated,” but he stood by the substance of the remarks, insisting that he had made similar observations in public without generating controversy.
The Times smoothly segued into Democratic talking points about the latest distraction in the Romney camp, and added a moral chiding.
Now, the video has raised the possibility that Mr. Romney’s campaign will be sidetracked, with attention focused again on his proposed tax cuts for the wealthy, the release of his personal tax returns and his ability to connect with middle-class voters. With its unvarnished language, the video seems to undermine what aides have argued is an enduring attribute that would appeal to independent voters: a sense that Mr. Romney is, at base, an empathetic and caring man.
In one clip, Mr. Romney describes how his campaign would not try to appeal to “47 percent of the people” who will vote for Mr. Obama “no matter what.” They are, he says, “dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them.”
He says those people “pay no income tax,” and “so our message of low taxes doesn’t connect.” Mr. Romney adds: “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Mr. Romney, who has been under fire for releasing only two years of his tax returns, was quickly attacked by the Obama campaign. Jim Messina, Mr. Obama’s campaign manager, said in a statement Monday evening that it was “shocking” that Mr. Romney would “go behind closed doors” to describe nearly half of the country in such terms.
Mr. Romney is not the first presidential candidate to be caught speaking candidly at a fund-raiser. Four years ago during the Democratic primary campaign, The Huffington Post published Mr. Obama’s remarks at a San Francisco fund-raiser, saying small-town Pennsylvania voters, bitter over their economic circumstances, “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them” as a way to explain their frustrations.
Another Tuesday story (page A12) also led with the Romney tape. Jim Rutenberg and Ashley Parker reported that "On a Challenging Day, Romney Seeks to Shift to His Policy Specifics ."
The attention paid to the video -- in which he described nearly half of Americans as having a victim mentality and a dependency on government -- further complicated Mr. Romney’s efforts to bring a sharper focus to his campaign and address tensions within his staff.
And a day that began with hope by his campaign that it would be back on the offensive after a couple of weeks largely spent on defense ended with a late-night news briefing where he said his comments, which were surreptitiously recorded before being obtained and presented by the Web site of Mother Jones, were inelegantly stated.
The Times did note Obama's "cling to guns or religion" gaffe during the presidential campaign, caught on audio at a fundraiser in San Francisco on April 6, 2008. When that story broke on the Huffington Post, the paper covered it not on the front but on page A15 of the April 12, 2008 edition, the only mention of the incident in that day's paper, according to a Nexis search. It did make the next day's front page.
-- Clay Waters is Editor of the MRC's TimesWatch  site.