Last October, Yale lecturer Erika Christakis sent an email questioning whether university administrators should advise students on what Halloween costumes to wear. It resulted in protests on campus and a heated debate around the country.
David Corn has been an investigative journalist for more than 20 years. During the recent presidential election, Corn published the now-infamous “47 percent” video of Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Now, Corn has another secret tape: this one of Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell. He’s heard talking about using damaging personal information against would-be candidate Ashley Judd. McConnell has called the tape an invasion of privacy, but Corn insists it was obtained legally and he won’t reveal his source. Diane talks with Mother Jones’ Washington Bureau Chief David Corn about the Romney and McConnell tapes and investigative reporting in the digital age.
- David Corn Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine, recipient of the 2012 George Polk Award for Political Reporting and author of "47 Percent: Uncovering the Romney Video That Rocked the 2012 Election."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. During the most recent presidential campaign, an undercover videotape of Republican candidate Mitt Romney surfaced showing him speaking derisively of 47 percent of voters. Just seven months later another secret tape reveals Republican Senator Mitch McConnell mocking would-be political rival Ashley Judd. Mother Jones magazine's Washington bureau chief David Corn was responsible for tracking down and publishing both stories. He's just received the prestigious Polk Award for political reporting.
MS. DIANE REHMDavid Corn joins me in the studio. You're invited to be part of the conversation. Give us a call, 800-433-8850, send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Facebook, or send us a tweet. Good morning, David.
MR. DAVID CORNGood morning, Diane.
REHMGood to have you here. And David, once again congratulations on the Polk Award.
CORNThank you very much. It was actually an honor to be a part of all the people who got awards last week, including two great reporters, Austin Tice and David Enders, who covered the war in Syria, and Austin has been missing since August. They think that the Syrian government has him, and there are some behind-the-scenes...
CORNOr efforts being made.
CORNAnd, you know, guys like that are really the gutsy people in our profession, and I'm just really hoping that he comes home soon.
REHMAs do all of us. You know, certainly since you obtained that recording -- that videotape of the Mitt Romney statement about 47 percent, you've sort of been in the headlights here. And then you obtained an audio recording of Senator Mitch McConnell. Before we play two little portions of that tape, tell us what's on them, because the first one….
REHM...is a little difficult to understand.
CORNYeah. Well, if the first clip is the one from Mitch McConnell himself, I'll give you the background. This was a meeting held February 2nd. It was the day that Mitch McConnell opened his reelection campaign headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky, and after this unveiling, you know, a couple dozen supporters were there, he spoke, he had a private strategy session with aides, and the port of the tape -- the part of the meeting the tape captured was when they were going over what we call oppo research, opposition research, research into potential challenges -- challengers to Mitch McConnell.
CORNForemost among them at the time was the actor/activist Ashley Judd who was -- seemed to be seriously contemplating running against Mitch McConnell. So as often happens in campaigns, the people were getting together and they said this is all the oppo we have on her, or the dirt, you might say. And, you know, a lot of it was publically available, but it's kind of interesting to see how this side of politics works.
CORNAnd you had Mitch McConnell in the room as they went through various sort of material they could turn into political ammunition against Judd, and at the very beginning, Mitch McConnell is talking and he says -- I don't know if this is what you're going to play, that it's -- this is the whack-a-mole time of the campaign.
REHMWhat does that mean, the whack-a-mole?
CORNWell, if you've ever to Rehoboth or Ocean City, you know, it's a Boardwalk game in which this animal, a mole, pops out of a head and you have this big mallet and you sort of hit it before he goes back and if you do, you get points. So basically you have all these moles popping out of different holes, and the idea is to get them before they go anywhere. So it was Mitch McConnell saying, okay, we have all these potential candidates coming out, let's get them before they even get started.
CORNAnd I don't know, maybe this is a Kentucky expression, he said do them out. I don't quite know what that means, but I think it's pretty clear it means let's get them.
REHMAnd then there was a second portion that you were able to obtain possession of in which one of his aides is talking.
CORNYeah. They're talking about Ashley Judd, and about Ashley Judd's very public history of dealing with depression. They know about this because Ashley Judd wrote about it. The suicidal tendencies are when she was in sixth grade. That's was Ashley Judd was talking about, and in the '90s, she did go to a rehab center to deal with depression for, you know, he said 42 days, that was more or less accurate. But here they are kind of -- and other portions of the tape they're kind of laughing about this.
CORNIt's like, what a great opportunity we have here. You know, she -- you know, she's mentally unbalanced. And to me, this is -- as we did with the 47 percent tape, this is the type of thing you can put out there, and it's really up to the individual listener to decide whether they're upset, outraged, or nonplussed by this. Some people have said, oh, this is just what happens in politics, no big deal here. Other people have said, this is very kind of outrageous that a leading member of the Senate would sit there while they talked about using someone's, you know, past publically-stated challenges with depression in a political campaign.
REHMSo then Senator McConnell himself said something to the effect that this was Watergate-style tactics.
CORNOh, yeah. He in his campaign the first day they came out and they accused us being Watergate, and the second day, I think it was Jesse Benton, his campaign manager, and maybe another McConnell aide, who -- just compared it to Gestapo tactics. So they went from Watergate to the Holocaust really fast. I'm in a position where I still have a confidentiality agreement with the source of the tape, so I can't describe anything about the source or about what I know about the tape's origins.
CORNBut it's been reported by others in Kentucky, and I can't say whether this is true or not, that, you know, that people have pointed at a political operative down there who was in the hallway who captured this...
REHMA democratic political...
CORNA democratic political operative, who captured the sounds coming from a room that he could hear while walking down a hallway. The Kentucky -- the biggest paper in Kentucky, the Louisville Courier Journal had an interesting editorial just yesterday, looking back on this, and, you know, they say -- I'll just quote here. "The contents of the audio are as despicable as they are damaging, leaving Mr. McConnell unable to defend them." And they went onto say he's trying to divert the issue by talking about Watergate.
CORNAnd I think they're right. They said McConnell has masterfully diverted public attention from the offensive content of the tape which is the real story here, by making these claims that it's another Watergate.
REHMDavid Corn. He's Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine, also a contributor to MSNBC. His book is called "Showdown: The Inside Story of How Obama Fought Back Against Boehner, Cantor and the Tea Party." You can join us, 800-433-8850. David Corn, what a lot of people wonder is if you heard the same kind of statement being made by now President Obama and a member of his campaign, would you have done the same thing?
CORNOh, yes. I would. And there was -- remember the incident in the 2008 campaign, Mayhill Fowler who was working for Huffington Post at the time? You know, who was a paid supporter of Barack Obama -- I mean, paid meaning that she had made donations to the Obama campaign, and she was working with the Huffington Post, and her liberal leanings were no surprise. She was there when Obama talked about how people cling to guns and religion, and she put that story out there even though she had reason to believe that it would be inconvenient for Barack Obama, as they were -- as he was competing with Hillary Clinton in the Pennsylvania primary.
CORNAnd I applauded that at the time. I thought that was really good. You know, this is what you do if you're a journalist. And a lot of people have tried to sort of, you know, deride me and Mother Jones for, you know, being part of opposition -- political opposition research here, but I have to tell you that before the story came out, there was a person in Kentucky who was a -- who was sympathetic to the Democrats. Let me put it that way. I can't identify the person, but who got wind that I was going to do the story, and contacted me and asked me not to.
CORNWhy? Because this person wisely predicted that McConnell would come out and make himself the victim and it would help McConnell. So the only contact -- the only conversation I had with anybody, this was just sort of inadvertent. I didn't even know why the person was calling at first, was someone from Kentucky saying please don't do this because it will probably end up helping McConnell. And as we discussed in my office at the time, was of all the, you know, considerations that go into running a story like this, that is not appropriate.
CORNWhether it would help McConnell or hurt McConnell, you know, ricochet or whatever, that -- you know, we decided if it was newsworthy or not, and so, you know, to, you know, to my critics out there who are saying that this was all politically motivated, in a lot of ways, they have it exactly wrong.
REHMWhy do you think the source came to you?
CORNWell, the source, I believe, was, you know, was no fan of McConnell, and thought that, you know, that the public deserved to see the full McConnell, and -- which is why they came to me. And, you know, in journalism, people often come to you, whether you're at the Washington Post, the National Review, or Mother Jones, with information, and they usually have a motivation for doing it. It could be because they have a political axe to grind, it could be because they're outraged at a certain event or a corporation they work for. So you can look at that motivation, but the thing you have to assess is whether the information itself is accurate and worth posting and publishing.
REHMAnd we're going to talk about that consideration David Corn of the Mother Jones magazine gave to that information.
REHMAnd before we go into the content consideration that David Corn, who's Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine, had to give the information he had received, here's a posting on the website from PJ: "What Senate rules did Mr. McConnell break by having a private conversation with his staff? The fact that they mocked a," this person says, "a ridiculous political dilettante like Ashley Judd who doesn't even live in Kentucky? Do you really think that this stuff doesn't go on in every Senate office and the White House?"
CORNWell, it might. And if we have tapes about those other conversations, you know, and we can, we would disclose them. The story did not claim that Mitch McConnell violated any rules by doing this. Maybe the rules of good taste, as some people see it.
REHMBut he claims you were wiretapping or your source was...
CORNWell, we can get into that in a second. But there are some people who've raised the issue of whether or not he used his Senate staff to do anything campaign related in this opposition research. We put out a transcript that indicated that it might, but then there were some -- a few words that people heard differently. And we issued a correction because, well, a clarification is probably a better way of putting it because it was unclear.
CORNBut if he had used the Senate staff to engage in political activity, that would be a violation of rules. Other people raised that. It wasn't part of our original story. So when our -- we went with -- we didn't issue any charges. Now, there's an interesting issue in journalism here about privacy. You know, well -- we can talk about it in two different ways. One is legal and one is just sort of the notion of privacy.
CORNOn the legal front, because you asked about what considerations went into this. Of course, we have lawyers. And we talked to our lawyers about when we do stories like this and the lawyers in our case, in this case and in the 47 percent case, said there was no legal issue with us publishing the story. There's a well-known Supreme Court case called Bartnicki v. Vopper, 2001. You go to my Twitter feed after show, @davidcorndc, I'll put up a link to a story about this so we don't have to spend a lot of time.
CORNBut in essence, it was about a talk show radio host and other media that got a hold of a conversation between union people in which they said something threatening and then one of those union people later sued and said, I was recorded illegally, you can't use this. And the court decided in 2001 that if a journalist obtained something legally, that is if the journalist isn't involved in making something that might be illegal, that he or she have the perfect right to use that material.
CORNThey can't be held legally accountable if someone broke the law or violated the law to make that tape or, I guess, if someone stole a diary or something like that. And if you think about it, imagine if somebody, the National Review or someone in the right, got a hold of some CIA cables that showed there was a cover-up in Benghazi and that they were leaked to them illegally. Well, would people be saying, wait a second, you should be prosecuted because you're using material that was leaked illegally.
CORNIt's kind of a, you know, an interesting legal issue but there is no ambiguity about our legal right. In fact, I just have one quote, you can tell I came prepared for this. A University of Florida law professor named Clay Calvert was quoted in the Washington Post last week talking about this specifically. He said if the news media lawfully obtain truthful information about a matter of public significance, then the government may not constitutionally punish publication of the information absent an interest of the highest order.
CORNSo there was no legal issue with us using this. Privacy is another matter here. And it's, you know, you can talk about privacy in terms of criminal violation of privacy or just privacy in terms of good manners and good taste. And, you know, whether the 47 percent tape or the McConnell tape, what we did and a lot of journalists do in these instances is weigh, you know, someone's, you know, assumption or right to privacy versus what's newsworthy and in the public interest.
REHMBut what about the question of wiretapping? Why does or does that not apply?
CORNWell, if somebody -- I'm just -- I'll just speak theoretically here because I can't get into details to preserve my confidential arrangement with the source. If somebody broke into Mitch McConnell's office and planted 27 bugs and, you know, produced a transcript and gave me the transcript or gave the New York Times a transcript, anybody else, or NPR the transcript and none of us had any knowledge or didn't induce the person to do it, didn't participate in it, even though that person could end up perhaps being, you know, going to jail for violating federal wiretapping statutes, nothing would happen to the journalist. A journalist have the right to use that information.
REHMDid you make any attempt to talk directly with Senator McConnell?
CORNOh, yes. Oh, yeah.
REHMBefore you published?
CORNOf course, I did. I, you know, a full day before we went out and a full day in media time nowadays is like forever. You know, we -- I contacted his campaign, I contacted his Senate office, I contacted his campaign manager.
REHMTo what end?
CORNI said I want to talk about this meeting you had February 2nd. I understand that McConnell said this about Whac-A-Mole. And I want to ask you what happened about this and get your comment, and get your response, whatever you want to tell me.
CORNNothing. Nothing at all. But according to Chuck Todd of NBC News, he spoke to them when this was -- when the story broke. They swept their office for bugs that afternoon and that evening before my story even came out. So they immediately suspected, oh, someone's been, you know, has bugged out office, which doesn't seem to be the case. And so they acted on what I sent them. But they didn't respond at all. And since the story has come out, as the Louisville Courier Journal and others have noted, Mitch McConnell has yet to respond to any of the substance.
CORNHe was asked about it repeated times, several times in a press conference the day this happened and he would just go back to his talking points that it was Watergate, Watergate, Watergate and not even address the question of whether it was fair game or not to sort of giggle and laugh about Ashley Judd's history dealing with depression.
REHMDavid, describe the process that you had to engage in to make sure that that tape was authentic.
CORNYeah. And I, you know, I can only go so far without revealing things I can't reveal. But, you know, the source approached us, described the tapes. You know, eventually sent a version of the tape. And we're able, with some, you know, technical means to sort of get a sense whether it's edited and whether it's been fabricated. In this day of PhotoShop and everything else, you never can get 100 percent.
CORNSomebody is really super duper good at this stuff, they could probably totally, you know, forge a tape or a document. But if you look at the person who's bringing it to you and, you know, what their technical means might be and you look at the quality of things, you can get a good sense of whether, you know, to what degree there's a possibility you're the victim of a hoax. Obviously in this case we were not.
CORNAnd then you got to sort of authenticate it by saying, okay, could this have happened. And you check all these surrounding facts. Okay, there was a meeting. There was a grand opening in February 2. Mitch McConnell was in town. He wasn't off in China. You know, the person who's bringing it to you seems to, you know, be in a position to have access to this.
REHMDid you bring voice experts in?
CORNI didn't bring voice experts in because there was one line of Mitch McConnell in the tape, mainly he's listening. And, you know, it's hard to hear it over the air now, but if you put on headphones, it's pretty clearly him. And we were pretty clear that the tape hadn't been manipulated. And the thing was, one reason I called Mitch McConnell's office is because we didn't have identities for the other voices on the tape, particularly the person who leads the meeting.
CORNWe had some ideas who they might be and there's a reference to a Jesse attending the meeting and his campaign manager's name is Jesse Benton, probably him, but we weren't sure. That's one of the reason I called the McConnell and said would you like to, you know, would you care to identify these people?
REHMAnd did Senator McConnell ever deny the substance?
CORNOh, no, there's been no denial at all. In fact, the response has been from the McConnell side that they've been, you know, that they were the product of Watergate Gestapo bugging tactics, indicating, you know, that at least the accuracy of the audio tape is not in question.
REHMHe called it Nixonian. He called it an invasion of privacy. The question becomes was it legally or illegally obtained?
CORNAnd again it's hard for me to get into that too much because I can't...
REHMWell, let me tell you -- let me just tell you what USA Today has reported.
REHMThey said on April 11th that a Kentucky Democratic official said that two men tied to an anti-Mitch McConnell superPAC took credit for it.
CORNRight. And the way that story also was reported that that Democratic official has now backtracked to say maybe it was only one of the two since he gave those initial interviews. And he said that they were in a hallway and...
REHMWhen there was an open house.
CORNYeah. They were to an open house and they missed the open house but they were in the hallway and recorded, you know, hearing sounds coming from behind the door. Again, I can't say whether this is true or not but I've seen legal commentary about it. It's kind of interesting, if you can hear sounds, is it true? And, you know, there's state laws, there are federal laws. And eventually, there are reports that the FBI is looking into it at the request of Mitch McConnell.
CORNI assume a lot of that will be sorted out. But it's hard for me to say anything about that. And, you know, when you deal with sources, you know, you get material in and it can go in a lot of different directions.
REHMAll right, let's open the phones here. First to Louisville, TX. Good morning, Phillip.
PHILLIPHi, Diane, how are you doing?
REHMI'm good. Thanks.
PHILLIPI just had a question. I really just had two questions. First question is, do you think Obama, our commander-in-chief, would speak crudely or just raw about certain issues involving tactics? And my second question is whether he does or he doesn't, do you think this will turn into maybe a witch hunt for politicians, I guess, who play hard ball and have to use some of these tactics that others that are outside interest groups might deem a little harsh to win an election or win their political campaigns? Thank you.
CORNInteresting question. I mean, I can't really say whether Obama would privately or not. He was captured, I said earlier, talking about people clinging to guns and culture. And some people, you know, had different interpretations. Guns and religion, some people had different interpretations about how crude or damaging that was. You know, it'd be great to see, you know, politicians open the doors to their strategy sessions and CSPAN to see if they can defend any of the stuff.
CORNI think, you know, the 47 percent tape might be more apropos here in that I, you know, it's my hunch that after that came out Mitt Romney, certainly maybe a few other politicians, acted more cautious when speaking to people whenever there was more than two others in the room.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I think what you're saying is that every single politician, if he is not in his own bathroom, perhaps by himself is going to have to be careful what he or she says.
CORNAnd what was really striking to me after the 47 percent story came out, when the dust settled and I was thinking about it a little was, huh, why didn't this happen before? These people have been in rooms full of whether it's a bartender, you know, a supporter's husband who may not, a wife who may not support the candidate. People who park cars. And everybody has a recording device on them practically now.
CORNAnd so, to me, you know, everyone said, well, my goodness, this is like an amazing new development. And I was, you know, thinking, gosh, I can't believe it hasn't happened sooner. Now, I think we all, in our society at large, are dealing with attacks or decline in our privacy, and I have to say this, to me as a journalist and doing a story like this, you know, there's a calculation. Is it enough of a story to go with?
CORNIf I had a tape of, you know, a senator talking about a private family matter that didn't have anything to do with his running for office or his performance in office, I wouldn't use, I would not use it. If it was a private matter that showed he was a hypocrite with what he was saying publicly, then I would use it. But I mean, I think there are lots of different calculations and people might reach different calculations even with the same set of facts.
REHMRemind of the substance of the 47 percent statement.
CORNOkay. Well, that was a long fundraiser, about an hour long, that Mitt Romney did in May of 2002 in which he was asked by one of the funders there who'd pay $50,000 seat to go to this -- to Marc Leder's house, a big hedge fund guy. It was a very private, a couple dozen people at most. And Mitt Romney said, well, the question to Mitt Romney was, how are you going to get people to take responsibility for their own lives and vote for you?
CORNMeaning, you know, how can you win these votes of these people. And Mitt Romney said there are 47 percent of Americans who will never vote for me and these are people who don't pay taxes, who get government handouts and who will -- you know, I should quote by heart, you'd think so -- but who won't take personal responsibility for their own lives. So with that remark, he was actually getting the numbers wrong and was lumping together a lot of different groups of Americans.
CORNBut he seem to suggest that Medicare, Social Security, if you use a federal finance drug rehab program or if you're a veteran, getting veteran benefits, you're a freeloader, not take food stamps, Medicaid, not taking care of your own life.
REHMAnd in that case...
CORNAnd then also, the other thing you said, that he had no obligation to reach out to these people or do anything for them.
REHMAnd in that case, it was a bartender who stood up and said, he had actually filmed it.
CORNYeah. Scott Prouty who gave me the tape didn't stand up at first. I mean, he was very courageous in giving it to a journalist, realizing that would probably end up pointing back to him in some way or another at some point in time, if not publicly at least maybe in terms of the people who he worked for and people in his own community. And as he has said, he came out about a month or so ago and outed himself.
CORNYou know, that he, you know, spent a week or two looking in the mirror and saying, my God, I have this tape, I don't know what to do with it. I mean, should I get it out? I mean, if I don't, I won't be able to live with myself. But if I do get it out, it may put me in jeopardy. More importantly, may put my boss, the caterer, in jeopardy. And he really struggled with it for a long time before he and I connected.
REHMDavid Corn, Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Journalist David Corn is with me. He's just received the prestigious Polk Award for political reporting. He's Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine and a contributor to MSNBC. Just before the break, David, we were talking about Mitt Romney's "47 percent" statement. Do you believe it cost him the election?
CORNYou know, I'm in a really difficult -- tough position to judge that. All I -- you know, there are two ways of looking at it, whether it changed anybody's opinions about Mitt Romney. And on that score I've talked to pollsters who worked on both side of the campaign and, you know, they do believe that it reinforced and bolstered the attack and the critique that the Obama people were making against Mitt Romney.
CORNBut a more sort of practical or down to earth or, you know, nuts and bolts way to look at this is that after the conventions are done, both political conventions, each campaign had, I don't know, about nine -- eight-and-a-half, nine weeks or so to implement their game plan. You know, when they're going to go to the middle, when they're going to run these types of ads or that type of ads for foreign policy, make this type of attack, be positive, be negative.
CORNAnd, you know, beyond any of my expectations, the "47 percent" story, which we broke on a Monday afternoon, was a story for -- it remained in the headlines and in the news cycle for about a week-and-a-half, which almost never happens anymore. The Thursday after that, so like nine, ten days later, I got a note from somebody at a major news broadcast who said the "47 percent" tape was played again tonight on all three network news shows. This never happens.
CORNSo I think what -- you know, I think so for nine days or a week-and-a-half, Mitt Romney's whole game plan was thrown off kilter. Whatever he wanted to do with that timeframe which led up to the first debate, which he was able to do well in, he wasn't able to do well in it. And it just sucked up all the oxygen and all the opportunity that he had. So I think in that way -- and it'll be interesting to talk to Stuart Stevens and so on about that -- you know, being put on defense, not being able to stick to their game plan for a week-and-a-half because of the story might have been the most serious impact of the tape.
REHMAll right. Here is a Tweet from bad example man. "David Corn, how do you feel about receiving the James O'Keefe seal of approval?"
CORNWell, you know, it was a good laugh I got today. I guess we should say that -- explain that -- although I hate to promote this, but on the Daily Beast today James O'Keefe has a story in which he kind of defends me. But the thing is, what I did was to use in the "47 percent" case and in the Mitch McConnell case was to use, you know, tapes that had been given to me that I fully verified. And then in each case I put up unedited so people could see the whole thing.
CORNYou know, James O'Keefe, thank you very much, but in several of your sting operations you engaged in selective editing of your tapes and you put someone like Shirley Sherrod, you know, in tremendous jeopardy. She lost her job because you took, in that instance, a tale she was telling about overcoming racism into a tale of an accusation that she was acting as a racist. So there I see a complete difference.
CORNAnd I have to say, I've never been imaginative enough to try to have a -- lure a CNN reporter onto a yacht to show her sex toys as he did with a CNN reporter in some way to compromise her. I don't understand how that would even work. And he, I think, is on probation now -- if I have the facts wrong, James, I apologize -- for having tried to, you know, bug Senator Mary Landrieu's office by going into her office to do it quite physically. So I see a world of difference but I can understand why he's now trying to sort of associate what he does with more traditional journalism.
REHMAll right. Jerry in Michigan warns. He says, "David do not become over confident. The people you are reporting on are not Boy Scouts. This is what they will try. They will provide you with all the evidence they have that they did something wrong. But with that evidence will be something they can easily disprove or at least make it impossible to verify. That's what happened to Dan Rather."
REHM"The substance of his report on Bush being a deserter was a bombshell. But they blasted him on one irrelevant detail and that became the story. Not only did it absolve Bush from the substance, it ruined Rather's career."
CORNYeah, I mean, you know, it's a tough game reporting on stories when you don't have full access to the people involved. So you have to make very prudent and cautious judgments about what to go with, what not to go with. I've had some people bring me certain tapes in the last couple months after the "47 percent" tape came out, which I've done nothing with because I couldn't confirm it. I wasn't sure about it. I couldn't get full access to it. So I think the Tweeter, for his words of caution -- and we do try to be very mindful of that as I know almost all journalists are.
REHMTo Jacksonville, Fla. Good morning, Wes.
WESYou know, I'm listening and I'm really intrigued by all this. And, you know, I'm a young 20-year-old, you know, fairly politically minded. And I really -- this whole thing hits me as kind of, what is the big deal you know? If we had tapes of politicians in their private quarters and their cabinets of all the politicians, I'm sure we would be shocked and amazed, you know. It's kind of this -- it's just, you know, this conversation that's heard and I don't, you know, really know the context of the conversation or the tone or the inflection of what they're saying.
WESAnd my point is, like, it's just -- I don't know what the big deal is about all of this, you know. I don't know that this is going to be an incredible determination of somebody's ability to serve the country or the politician. You know, I mean, so...
CORNWell, if you want to hear the tone inflection you can because we put up the audio tape so you can hear what they're saying. And other people have reacted. They talk about her past struggles with depression and also her religious views in a very derisive mocking tone. And it's up to every, you know, voter and commentator to listen to this on their own and decide whether or not, you know, there's a reason to be outraged.
CORNYou know, the Louisville Courier Journal in their editorial yesterday said it was despicable. Now they're not big fans of Mitch McConnell. Maybe that affected them, maybe not. But, you know, I've gotten plenty of Tweets in the last few days from people who were aghast that a senator would participate in this. Other people are more cynical and say, of course, what do you expect?
REHMAnd here is a Tweet. It says, "I'm sure David Corn would agree that Ms. Judd's potential health issues are a concern. I personally would not want an unstable Senator."
CORNWell, you know, I hate to tell you this, I think you already got a few, but that's neither here nor there. Again, you can listen to the tape and how, you know, saying that she had suicidal tendencies, we're going to make it -- you know, we might use that as ammunition. That's when she was in 6th grade that she disclosed herself in a book writing about her past, her history. So -- now there may be someone out there who says, I don't want a senator who in 6th grade was suicidal. Okay, that's for your to decide.
CORNBut as a journalist here I am giving you that information. If you think it's not a big deal, if you think Mitch McConnell did nothing wrong you're entitled to that belief.
REHMNow, David, one of your college classmates has said of you quote "he was meant to make trouble and it really is a pleasure watching him do it." Is he right? Are you, in fact, a troublemaker?
CORNWell, you know, were Woodward and Bernstein troublemakers? I'm not comparing myself to them. I mean, I'm doing what I like to do, which is journalism which is to me the -- you know, the essence of journalism is showing people the truth of the world. And often that means getting behind a closed door and showing people what they otherwise would not get a chance to see. If you wanted to hear Mitt Romney talk candidly, you had to pay $50,000 a plate. Voters who had to make this most important decision of who to elect as president did not have all the information they needed.
CORNSo in this instance, because of Scott the bartender, we were able to give the public a little bit more information. Now people again could decide how important that is. Same thing with the Mitch McConnell tape. This is, you know, shining a light where -- you know, in corners that are usually kept in the dark. If that makes trouble for people, I think that happens because people want to do things in the dark.
REHMAll right. To Louisville, Ky. Hi there, Mike.
MIKEHow you doing, Diane? It's good to talk to you.
CORNGood, thanks. Thank you.
MIKEI had -- there's two statements David -- in one of them he just made that I really liked was the fact that there are some unstable senators and congressmen right now. But the statement you made in the very beginning of the conversation about Mitch McConnell making the statements and releasing the tape could make him more popular, which I absolutely, to a point, agree with that, because it makes him more approachable to the common people. Because if we were - I don't know if you've played sports or you were in locker rooms in high school or in your office, there's always talk like that.
CORNRight. Well, when I was -- when I said that, what I had in mind -- I take your point -- was a little different point, is that Mitch McConnell has terrible approval ratings in the state of Kentucky. He usually runs below the generic Republican, meaning that people like a Republican with no name better than they like Mitch McConnell. But he's a very good politician and he's been able to win election to the Senate for five times, what is it, 30 years or so now.
CORNBut conservatives in the last few years have really turned against him in the state. You know, he backed an established Republican candidate against Rand Paul, was nearly a civil war within the party. The Tea Party crowd in Kentucky for some reason -- I'm not even quite sure all the time -- really, really despise him. So if he can make this past week a story of, I'm being attacked by the liberals, by the liberal media, the liberal activists or whatever, that can help endear him to the conservative as the Tea Party activists in Kentucky have been contemplating running a primary challenge against Mitch McConnell.
CORNSo that's what I think is here more than sort of trying to, you know, find a way to connect with locker room talk and types in Kentucky. This is a way of enhancing his appeal to conservatives to put off a Tea Party challenge.
REHMYou know, it's fascinating to me how little the public seems to hold grudges against people who do, you know, you can call make mistakes or say something they shouldn't make. Here you had Congressman Anthony Weiner on the cover of New York Times Magazine this week. He seems to be raring and ready to go. You had the governor of -- Sanford who seems to be making a comeback.
REHMThese things don't seem to bother people.
CORNYeah, it's sort of a good time for politicians who have been caught with their -- well, I won't even say it. You know, I -- you know, this is what's great about...
REHMWhat can you say?
CORN...I mean, listen. All you have to say is Bill Clinton. What Bill Clinton did is arguably worse than what Mark Sanford did, and even what Anthony Weiner did. But, you know, the public decided at that point in time that it wasn't worthy of impeachment and that that was not the way to -- you know, shouldn't be used in a sort of political warfare sort of way. And they liked what he was doing. But I need to make one small clarification. Can I?
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
CORNBecause during the last break, I couldn't help it. I checked my Tweet feed and people were all a twitter about the fact that I said I was contacted by someone who was a Democratic sympathizer in Kentucky who asked me not to run the story beforehand. And they say, oh, the Democrats knew and there's all -- I can see a conspiracy theory borning right before my eyes. So before it gets too far, I will say -- I won't say who it was because I can't do that -- but it wasn't any Democratic official. It wasn't anybody that I know, you know, in the Democratic leadership.
REHMWas it someone you knew?
CORNNo, no, it's someone I didn't know who just sort of -- who has -- who -- he may be a registered Democrat, I don't know, but he seemed to be sympathetic to the Democrats. And he seemed to not be representing anyone other than himself. So...
REHMBut, David, as an investigative reporter, surely you found out exactly, not only obviously who he was but his background.
CORNWell, I knew who he was. Yeah, I knew who he was, but he wasn't acting as a Democratic Party representative...
REHMYou're saying he was there by accident?
CORNNo, I'm saying he -- no, no, I'm talking about the person who called me, who heard that we had this tape. Now, how did he hear that from? I -- you can make a guess. I can make -- I can make a guess too but it wasn't a Democratic Party, you know, leader who was acting on behalf of the Democrats. I just want to say that.
REHMAll right. A final call from Louisville, Ky. Thane, you're on the air.
REHMYes, go right ahead, sir.
THANEHi. I'm a big fan of both you, Diane Rehm, and Mr. Corn. Mr. Corn, my question is how -- if someone got a hold of compromising material such as the McConnell audio or the "47 percent" tape or similar, how would they get in touch with you?
CORNOh well, Mother Jones has a website that does have a -- sort of a tip line, a tip box. So you have to be able to find it. It's not so hard but that's probably the easiest way to get something to me. So, you know, if you have something out there -- and as I said earlier in the show, people have brought me audio tapes which we haven't used because they haven't, you know, passed, you know, certain vettings. But I'm always happy to look at any tips, any stories, tapes or otherwise. And you can always Tweet at me, davidcorndc, if that helps.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling, Thane. That sounds intriguing, David.
CORNYeah, so we'll see.
REHMYou know, I wonder what all this takes from you and out of you.
CORNWell, you get a lot of hate Tweets from people who don't like this, and who often are, you know, completely ignorant of the law and even of the circumstances. It doesn't take a lot for people to fire up, you know, Twitter. And, you know, I'm sure you get this too, and just, you know, just vent. And sometimes in the most awful, you know, profane, obscene manner. And as I said, you know, people who are upset politically, you know, maybe they should be happy this happened. Maybe this has helped Mitch McConnell.
CORNBut it's -- you know, if you do this sort of stuff it seems in a hyperbolic divisive political culture these days, you got to have a thick skin.
REHMDavid Corn. He is Washington bureau chief of Mother Jones magazine, a contributor to MSNBC and has just received the Polk Award for political reporting. Thanks for coming on, David.
CORNThank you so much, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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