Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, thought he was just speaking to wealthy donors who had paid $50,000 each to attend a fundraiser.
But on Monday the magazine Mother Jones leaked video clips which some political pundits say could seriously damage his campaign.
"Romney's math is awfully fuzzy… He's made a lot of verbal gaffes that have kind of derailed his campaign. He's got to get his act together, to get his stories straight and if he wants to win this election, he's got to get on a better script."
- John Feehery, a Republican strategist
In the clip he says: "There are 47 per cent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 per cent 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."
While it is true that 46.4 per cent of Americans pay no federal income tax, this breaks down to 28.3 per cent who do pay payroll taxes which are generally deducted from paychecks and go toward Medicare and Social Security, and they simply do not earn enough to pay income tax.
About 18.1 per cent of households do not pay income or payroll taxes, 10.3 per cent of whom are retirees, while 6.9 per cent do not pay taxes because they are too poor, earning below $20,000 a year.
However the less than one per cent that fall into the "other" category of those who pay no tax actually have very high incomes, usually more than $200,000 per year.
Soon after the tape's release Romney said in an impromptu press conference that his words were "not elegantly stated" but did not withdraw them.
"Here is somebody who often expresses a very binary view of the world…[The videos show] an unintentionally candid version of Romney…to some extent, as his video attests, this is how he feels and reflects, probably with a great deal of accuracy, his worldview."
- Scott Helman, the co-author of The Real Romney
And just hours later, more video clips were released, and this time Romney was speaking about foreign policy.
"And I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say, "There's just no way".
These clips come after a string of blunders and negative stories about Romney’s campaign, and they might be having an impact. Some recent polls show Romney trailing Obama in several key states.
Inside Story: US 2012 asks: Can Romney overcome the current campaign turmoil?
Joining the discussion with presenter Shihab Rattansi are: John Nichols, a political writer for The Nation magazine; Scott Helman, the co-author of the biography The Real Romney; and John Feehery, a former spokesperson to Dennis Hastert, the Republican speaker of the US House of Representatives.
"Romney is foolishly and crudely attacking concepts that wise, conservative Republicans put into place a long time, and I think it speaks to the incoherence of his campaign. He should not be taking his talking points [as presidential nominee] from the real fringe of his own party."
John Nichols, a political writer for The Nation magazine
ROMNEY'S REMARKS IN MOTHER JONES CLIPS:
"And they will vote for this president no matter what. And I mean the president starts off with 48, 49... he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. forty-seven per cent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. He'll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean, 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, is convince the five to ten percent in the center that are independents."
"If I were Iran, if I were Iran – a crazed fanatic. I'd say let's get a little fissile material to Hezbollah, have them carry it to Chicago or some other place, and then if anything goes wrong or America starts acting up, we'll just say, 'Guess what? Unless you stand down, why, we're just going to let off the dirty bomb'. I mean this is where we have – where America could be held up and blackmailed by Iran, by the mullahs, by crazy people. So we really don't have any option but to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon."