We asked Swidey to tell us about his work on this story. Here’s what he e-mailed us:

“I knew what I didn’t want to write: the birth-to-current-day profile of Mitt Romney, the Massachusetts governor and presidential hopeful. That had been done and done again. As Romney’s national stature rose in the past year, the media parachuting in always seemed to focus on the same two things: the fact that Romney is a Mormon and that he has a great head of hair. But what had long intrigued me about the guy was something much more subtle.

“Around Massachusetts, Romney is known as an exceedingly careful politician who rarely goes off script. I wondered how much of that was a byproduct of his seeing the presidential dream of his father, the late Michigan Governor George Romney, crash and burn. His father’s fall happened after he made an offhand comment during a 1967 local television interview about having been brainwashed on Vietnam. So that became the clear frame of my piece.

“I began my reporting in a pretty obvious spot: Tracking down the footage of George Romney’s fateful 1967 interview. It turned out to be more elusive than I expected. (Mitt’s sister later told me she had been trying without success to find it for years.) But getting my hands on it made all the difference. Mitt Romney’s communications director initially rejected my request for time with the governor. I was able to get him to reconsider by explaining the importance of setting the record straight about the infamous interview. (The grainy video shows that George Romney’s gaffe came across as much less portentous than political history would make it out to be.) I offered to show Mitt the footage, since I assumed it had been a long time since he had seen it. When I sat down with the governor, I was shocked to hear he had never seen the footage at all. Still, as we talked, it became clear just how large it had loomed over his own political life.”

Read “The Lessons of the Father,” by Neil Swidey

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