Wrapping up a report for Tuesday's NBC Today about the hidden camera video of Mitt Romney speaking at a fundraiser, national investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff laughably proclaimed: "The source who made the secret video insisted to NBC News that the original motivation was not political but simple curiosity, to see what Romney would say in this unscripted setting." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
After promoting that assertion, Isikoff added: "But after watching the tape, the source decided the public should hear what Romney said and was encouraged to release it after talks with an Atlanta political researcher names James Carter IV, the grandson of Jimmy Carter..." Isikoff didn't question the fact that Romney made the comments in May but that the video was just released 50 days before the election.
Early in his report, Isikoff cited the magazine Mother Jones for having initially obtained the video, but did not ascribe any liberal label to the left-wing publication. Reporting the story on Monday's NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams did describe it as a "liberal magazine."
At the top of the show, co-host Matt Lauer declared that Romney was "on the defensive" following the release of the video. Isikoff similarly began his report by announcing that Romney's comments were "now raising tough new questions for his presidential campaign."
Here is a full transcript of the September 18 report:
7:00AM ET TEASE:
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: "Off the cuff," that's how Mitt Romney is describing his comments, secretly recorded at a fundraiser, critical of millions of President Obama's supporters.
MITT ROMNEY: There are 47% who are with him, who are dependent on government, who believe that they are victims.
7:01AM ET TEASE:
MATT LAUER: Big morning in politics here. Mitt Romney is on defensive about those comments secretly recorded at a fundraiser in Florida. We're going to have more on that story straight ahead.
7:03AM ET SEGMENT:
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Here at home, there's a major political story in the presidential race. Mitt Romney defending comments secretly recorded at a private fundraiser in which he criticized Obama supporters as victims who are dependent on government. Michael Isikoff is NBC's national investigative correspondent. Michael, good morning to you.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Romney Responds; Candidate Defends Video Calling Voters "Victims"]
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Good morning, Savannah. The newly leaked video was taken from a small digital camera concealed on a piece of furniture 20 feet from Romney as he spoke at a Florida fundraiser four months ago, and it's now raising tough new questions for his presidential campaign.
MITT ROMNEY: There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the President no matter what.
ISIKOFF: The video, first obtained by Mother Jones and later by NBC News, shows Romney surrounded by donors in May. NBC News has learned it was secretly recorded at a $50,000-a-plate fundraiser at the Boca Raton, Florida home of private equity mogul Mark Leiter. Asked how he's going to convince voters that they need to take care of themselves, Romney responds:
ROMNEY: Alright, there are 47% who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that's an entitlement, and the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.
ISIKOFF: Romney concedes he has little chance of winning these voters over because they can't relate to his message of lower taxes and less government.
ROMNEY: These are people who pay no income tax. 47 percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. So he'll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. That's what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people, I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. What I have to do is convince the 5 to 10 percent in the center that are independent, that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other depending upon, in some cases emotion, whether they like the guy or not.
ISIKOFF: Later, asked why he doesn't attack the President more forcefully, Romney says this about swing voters he's targeting:
ROMNEY: Because they voted for him, they don't want to be told that they were wrong, that he's a bad guy, that he did bad things, that's he's corrupt. But those people that we have to get, they want to believe they did the right thing, but he just wasn't up to the task. They love the phrase that, "he's over his head."
ISIKOFF: While the Obama campaign called Romney's comments "shocking," Romney on Monday night responded at a campaign event in California.
ROMNEY: It's not elegantly stated, let me put it that way. I'm speaking off the cuff in response to a question, and I'm sure I could state it more clearly and in a more effective way than I did in a setting like that. The President believes in what I've described as a government-centered society where government plays a larger and larger role, provides for more and more of the needs of individuals, and I happen to believe instead in a free enterprise, free individual society where people pursuing their dreams are able to employ one another, build enterprises, build the strongest economy in the world. I happen to believe that my approach is the approach that will put 23 million people back to work again.
ISIKOFF: At one point in the video, Romney also makes a joke about the background of his famous father, who was born of American parents in Mexico.
ROMNEY: Had he been born of Mexican parents, I'd have a better shot of winning this, but he was...unfortunately born of Americans living in Mexico. They lived there for a number of years and uh, I mean I say that jokingly, but it would be helpful being Latino.
ISIKOFF: The source who made the secret video insisted to NBC News that the original motivation was not political but simple curiosity, to see what Romney would say in this unscripted setting. But after watching the tape, the source decided the public should hear what Romney said and was encouraged to release it after talks with an Atlanta political researcher names James Carter IV, the grandson of Jimmy Carter, a president who is frequently compared by Romney to Barack Obama as an example of a failed president. Savannah.
GUTHRIE: Alright, Michael Isikoff in our Washington newsroom, thank you.