Searing indictment of the press

May 14, 2004
By

I know, why are indictments always searing? OK, anyway:

I just finished reading an Atlantic Monthly article about the dark art of digging dirt on political rivals. The story talks about how it crippled the Dean campaign and wounded the Gore campaign (why is it Republicans are so much better at it?) … but what it mostly talks about is how oppo researchers exploit a compliant press.


Implicit in this process is the news media’s cooperation in carrying out the work of campaign operatives?usually without disclosing that fact to readers and viewers. If gathering opposition research is a science, disseminating it is very much an art. “Usually you can find stories that match up with the dynamics of different media outlets,” Lehane explains. “If you have videotape, you take it to a television outlet. If it’s a complicated financial story, you take it to The Wall Street Journal. Something on special interests you take to The New York Times. It’s all part of the process.”

The Associated Press is the most useful foil for oppo researchers.

Indeed, handling the Associated Press plays an ongoing role in plotting campaign strategies. Because candidates nowadays are expected to launch their bids with at least a pro forma pledge to run a clean campaign, and because “going negative” can quickly alienate voters, the AP has become a vital channel of attack. Offensives can be executed in two ways. The first is through the more or less straightforward leaking of information that will prompt a negative story. Jason Stanford says, “It’s easy to move stuff into the news media, because conflict is always a better story.”

This story is a big bold slap in the face of our profession. The aggravating thing is that it is completely warranted.

We’ll never be an independent press as long as we keep carrying water for political campaigns. If we’re getting scoops from oppo operatives, we must disclose it. If that means they stop talking to us, so be it.

This shit’s gotta stop, folks. We’re supposed to be in the truth business, not the greasing-the-wheels-of-political-attack business.

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