Sunday, May 16, 2004

Playing Dirty 

That's the title of an article in this month's Atlantic Monthly (is that a redundant discription?) on the world of opposition research in political campaigns. Great article, with great quotes from some masters of that black art, such as Chris Lehane (D-Asshole) and Barbara Comstock (R-Satan's Concubine). My favorite part was this explanation from Lehane about how you work the media with this stuff:
Campaigns have become highly sophisticated at using such material to maximum effect. "It's a lot like a trial," Comstock explains. "The candidate gives you what you have to work with. You're piecing things together that tell a larger story." Lehane agrees that the first step is choosing a negative storyline to push and laying the groundwork by talking it up to beat reporters and editors. "The second step," he says, "is to catalogue a variety of stories you have that support this. You begin by planting some smaller stories so that you build a foundation or basis for the larger story you're going to want to have hitting in the fall."

Especially in a presidential election "you have to plant a lot of the seeds in the spring and the summer so that you can capitalize on it," Lehane says. "If you have a big story that's going to hit in the middle of September, middle of October, what you really want to do is build several things that come off of the story so that it's not just a one-day hit. If the story runs on the front page of a major paper, you also want to set it up so that it hits some of the television morning shows, and from there you want to have surrogates [friendly talking heads] out the next day, so that you get a second hit. On the third day, ideally, you have some additional information you've been holding back that you can feed into it [to prompt] another round of stories. On the fourth or fifth day you try to hold your candidate back from saying anything, so that eventually, when he does say something about the issue, you get another round of stories. If you do it effectively, you can basically wipe out a guy's entire week—he'll spend the entire week responding to a story that showed up on a Monday." In the heat of the campaign season each week is critical. Not only can a well-orchestrated hit knock an opponent off stride, it can solidify an impression that the many voters just tuning in to the election will carry into the voting booth.

The article does make me like Wesley Clark a bit less than I did beforehand, though. Anyway, the whole thing is very interesting.
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