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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Oppo and the Media

In Defying the Odds, we discuss opposition research in the 2016 campaign.

At The New York Times, Jonathan Martin uses the Kremlingate story to reflect on the relationship between oppo and the media:
The back-and-forth between news source and reporter over opposition research can recall adolescent flirtation: initial awkwardness, then apprehension over whether there is mutual interest — and neither party wants the world to find out the details of the courtship.
A reporter would rather not be identified as being spoon-fed information. Most sources do not want their dirty work to splash back on their candidate or party. So both parties have an interest in keeping a story’s genesis under wraps.
Typically, a campaign or government official approaches the journalist. This often begins with a request for anonymity, or in the parlance of the business, “No fingerprints.” The more sensitive the information, the more likely the pitch is made in person or on the telephone. Most political actors — not, apparently, Donald Trump Jr. — fear creating an email trail, at least before guarantees of anonymity have been offered.
After a reporter agrees not to reveal the identity of the source, the reporter and his or her editors or producers will confer about whether they are interested in pursuing a story about the material on offer.
If the news organization is interested, there is one last issue: how to identify the source. References can be made to “a rival candidate’s campaign” or more obliquely “a source familiar with the dirt” or even the bare-bones “sources say.”
Two things.  First, reporters often ask campaigns for the information.  (I have seen it happen.) Second, if the oppo consists of primary-source documents, reporters will often cite the dox without saying who pointed them out.