Mother Jones’s video clips showing Mitt Romney making off the cuff remarks during a private fundraiser are destined to become some of the most viral videos of the 2012 election. As of last night, the footage had a combined 3 million views, co-editor of the magazine Monika Bauerlein told Mashable.
“That’s getting into Rihanna territory, if not [Justin Bieber],” said Bauerlein.
YouTube is at the core of this story: Blurred-out versions of the clips were posted on the site weeks ago by an anonymous user (literally named “Anne Onymous”). According to Bauerlein, several journalists found the clips and had been working to authenticate them, but the Anne Onymous profile was, unfortunately for them, living up to its name.
It took the combined efforts of David Corn, Mother Jones’ Washington bureau chief, and James Carter, grandson of U.S. President Jimmy Carter and self-described opposition researcher, to validate the video. Carter gave the snippets to Corn, who then spent about a month working on convincing the still-unknown source to hand over the full, unedited clip.
Mother Jones began posting some of the most damning footage in snippets on Monday afternoon, later releasing a full-length version of the clip in two parts — full, save for a 2-minute recording gap that some conservatives claim invalidates the veracity of the footage (Corn has since explained the missing footage as human error on the part of the source).
Once posted to YouTube by Mother Jones, the video undoubtedly made a dramatic and immediate impact on the election. It arrived just as the Romney campaign was attempting a messaging reboot, and forced Romney into an awkward late-night emergency press conference to defend his comments. The video’s content has since become fodder for the Democratic messaging machine, which quickly pumped out YouTube ads of its own using the footage.
When asked about the many ways YouTube is intertwined with the story, Bauerlein immediately acknowledged the platform’s impact and importance.
“This story really had YouTube all over it from the start,” she said. “It’s how [David] Corn first found out about the footage, how he first got his lead on the story.”
Mother Jones posted the video on its website and included a brand watermark, but it set the YouTube clip so it can be easily embeddable elsewhere on the web. According to Bauerlein, that was a strategic decision to help the content spread far and wide — which it very much has.
“Everybody loves traffic,” Bauerlein said. “But we in particular are an organization driven by a mission for journalism as much as a revenue imperative. While we need the revenue of page views, what we need even more is to get the story out there. We’ll use any channel to make that possible. [The Romney footage] is about as successful as it gets. You put something out there, and you have no idea what people will do with it. That’s sometimes scary, but mostly exciting.”
Bauerlein also added that YouTube and small recording devices — she wouldn’t reveal the exact tech used to make the recording — have reduced the barriers for contributing to the news-gathering process.
Finally, when asked if the Mother Jones team was preparing for any possible legal challenges made by people claiming the recording was illegal, Bauerlein argued her magazine has a legal buffer against them.
“We didn’t encourage the making of this video,” she said. “Once the recording has been made, it’s really more our ethical obligation as journalists to make sure it’s authentic, we’re using it responsibly, we’re protecting our sources and we’re bringing to it only what journalists can bring to it. Raw material is fine and good, but in order for it to become a story, you have to bring additional identification, fact-checking and storytelling to it.”
How else has YouTube changed the way news is gathered and shared? How has it impacted the presidential election?