Corn, a lifelong journalist, grew up in the age of Watergate, and he has long been attracted to both the advocacy and investigative side of the profession. As an editor of his high school’s paper, he led a rambunctious crew of wannabe Woodwards and Bernsteins who were “constantly in some kind of dispute over disclosures about the school’s hiring practices [and] personnel matters,” recalls David Sanger, a veteran New York Times reporter who was a year behind Corn at White Plains (N.Y.) High.
“I never remember David obtaining a tape of something the principal said at a faculty meeting,” Sanger says, “but other than that, the David of [then] was exactly what he’s like now: passionate, innovative and always at the edge. The only thing he was missing then was the shock of white hair.”
While attending Brown University in Providence, R.I., Corn worked for an alternative paper in the city and took on Providence’s famously corrupt mayor, Buddy Cianci, a Republican-turned-independent. Corn says he considered it a compliment when Cianci, irritated by his stories, offered him a job in an effort to shut him up.
Corn is “a born contrarian,” says Philip Shenon, a college classmate who went on to become an author and longtime New York Times journalist. “All those years ago, I had a sense you could send him to a story, and he would bring back something no one else noticed. Some instance of injustice or hypocrisy, large or small. . . . He was meant to make trouble — and it really is a pleasure to watch him do it.”
Corn spent much of his career at the Nation, another liberal magazine, working both as an investigative reporter and an essayist-commentator. He’s never hidden his political sympathies; they are perhaps best spelled out in the title of his 2003 book: “The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception.”
“What’s wonderful about this story and ‘47 percent’ story is that no one needs to listen to me or any commentator to know what it means,” he said Wednesday. “It’s all there. It’s journalism verite. You can listen to it and come to your own conclusion. I would encourage people to come forward with more tapes.”