And just like that, Corn and Mother Jones had their second major bombshell in seven months. The first, of course, was one of the most consequential scoops of the presidential campaign — a leaked video recording of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney saying at a small fundraiser last May that “47 percent” of voters were “dependent” on the government. (Corn will receive the prestigious Polk Award for Political Reporting for the Romney story on Thursday.)
Corn, 54, says the two career-making stories might have been linked. He guesses that his source on the McConnell recording — whom he won’t reveal — came to him because of the way he handled the Romney recording and the firestorm it ignited. But that’s just speculation: “I literally don’t know why” the source came to him, he says. “I didn’t ask.”
Corn and Mother Jones, a liberal-leaning nonprofit magazine based in San Francisco, never revealed who gave them the Romney video or how it was shot. The leaker, a bartender at the Romney fundraiser named Scott Prouty, outed himself in an MSNBC interview last month. Prouty, in turn, said he felt comfortable with Corn because of his earlier work for Mother Jones, especially his articles about outsourcing.
Indeed, in the wake of the Romney revelation, Corn has received a mini-flood of would-be audio and video leaks about Washington figures. Some of these have looked promising, but none have become public — yet. Corn said he hasn’t been able to vet them to his satisfaction or work out terms for making them public. He has “passed” on several of the offers for a variety of reasons.
Not so of the McConnell recording, which Corn said he received two weeks ago. He spent several days authenticating it, ensuring that it wasn’t faked, doctored or taken out of context. He tried to get a response from McConnell’s camp a day before publication but received nothing. Despite this, Corn said, he felt certain that he had the real deal the night before MoJo posted his story and the recording online. “There’s no such thing as being 100 percent about [digital media] these days,” he said, “but I slept very easily the night before.”
Despite ample criticism, including from McConnell, that the audio recording is an invasion of privacy, Corn argues that its newsworthiness trumps those concerns. “I think voters and citizens have a tremendous right to know almost as much as possible of the elected officials who come before them and ask for their votes,” he said. “I think people can decide for themselves how outrageous [McConnell’s] behavior is, but it gives you a glimpse inside his campaign’s thinking.”