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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Online Life of the Secret Romney Recordings


An anonymous Twitter user who claims to have produced the secret recordings in May of Mitt Romney speaking at a private meeting of wealthy donors in Florida alerted the Romney campaign on Twitter last month, as well as members of the news media and prominent Democrats, about parts of the video.

In posts on Twitter, the account called @AnneOnymous tried to get the Romney campaign's attention on Aug. 31 by including a link to a short clip from the secret recordings about how the campaign uses his wife as a spokeswoman and his response to a question about troops in Iraq.

The Twitter user also alerted Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat from Florida, and David Corn, the Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones. It was Mr. Corn, who with reporting help from James E. Carter IV, the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, persuaded the tipster to give Mother Jones access to the complete recordings.

At least three months before Mother Jones published its report and the complete video recording this week, the person who surreptitiously captured the video during the May 17 fund-raising event in Boca Raton, Fla., had made numerous efforts online to get attention for it.

But most of the audio clips posted online since May did not focus on Mr. Romney's remarks that 47 percent of Americans are too dependent on government, which is what grabbed the headlines and created a political furor for the his campaign after the Mother Jones report.

The first of four audio snippets from the recordings were posted May 31 and June 1 on YouTube by an anonymous person who described himself or herself as 62 years old and called the account Romney Exposed.

In t his clip, Mr. Romney describes a visit to a Chinese factory while he was at Bain Capital. The clip received 432 views on that first day.

In late May and in June, a Huffington Post commenter called RomneyExposed also posted multiple comments and links to parts of the video, which led to more views of the clips, but not widespread attention or distribution.

In a post detailing the online life of the video recording, Ben Smith, editor in chief of BuzzFeed, noted that the person behind the video also tried to get the attention of a BuzzFeed contributor on Twitter, including a link to part of the video.

A YouTube account was set up in August under the name of Rachel Maddow, the MSNBC television host, with her photo and a link to a single clip from the fund-raiser. It was the 2-minute-8-second clip of the video about Mr. Romney's trip to the factory titled “Mitt Romney admits to using Chinese slave labor at Bain” that had been previously posted on the RomneyE xposed YouTube channel.

In response, members of Ms. Maddow's staff asked YouTube to take the video down and shut down the channel, which YouTube did.

But before it was removed, Ms. Maddow's official Twitter account posted a link to the video, which generated more views of it and led to other bloggers writing about it.

Twitchy.com gathered the conversation on Twitter about the video, including questions about its authenticity.

On the fake Maddow YouTube account, the tipster promised in the comments that they would eventually make available the entire recording.

Meanwhile, Mr. Corn and Mr. Carter, working for Mother Jones and reporters at The Huffington Post, were trying to work behind the scenes to coax the tipster int o giving them full access to the video.

At the same time, a Twitter account, @AnneAnonymus, was created in late August to help draw attention to the posts. And someone with the same user name posted short clips on The Daily Kos, the liberal blogging platform, but was unable to get attention for them and instead faced questions about whether they were authentic. .

As my colleague Christine Haughney pointed out in an article about how Mother Jones got the story, Markos Moulitsas, the Daily Kos founder, pointed out “they were short clips, some as short as eight seconds, without context or identifying information.”

Mr. Moulitsas said the Mother Jones's coup was getting the source to release the entire video.

Mr. Carter, who had seen the video online and then began to pursue the creator, said in an interview with NBC News that his grandfather, the former president, sent him an e-mail congratulating him for helping to bring the video to light.

Aft er it was made public, the anonymous Twitter user, @AnneOnymous, posted a note to Mr. Carter.

The identity of the person who captured the video remains unknown. But Marc Leder, the hedge fund manager who hosted the May fund-raiser at his home in Florida, has apologized to Mr. Romney and is considering bringing charges against the person who shot the hidden video.