In We’re With Nobody:Two Insiders Reveal the Dark Side of American Politics, out Jan. 24 from HarperCollins, Alan Huffman and Michael Rejebian give readers an insider’s perspective on the business of digging up dirt on the campaign competition, an arcane but vital political art known as Opposition Research (“oppo” for short). Tip Sheet spoke with Huffman and Rejebian over e-mail to find out how readers can benefit from their backstage tour.
Why tell your story now? What do you hope voters will take away from your book?
Two reasons. Oppo[sition research] has come out of the shadows in recent years, so we felt comfortable speaking openly about what we've learned during 18 years as oppo guys; the process, and the entertaining stories that go along with that. Plus, we've noticed a disturbing trend: political attacks today are often based on undocumented claims, and with so many mechanisms for communicating those attacks, we wanted to explain the importance of relying on documented facts. We hope readers will become more aware of the sources of the information they use to select their leaders, and that as they read the book, they'll be able to tag along on our political road trip.
Assuming you still get surprised, what's the most surprising thing you’ve seen in the 2012 Presidential campaign?
The biggest surprise lately is how poorly equipped so many of the Republican presidential primary candidates have been to handle attacks. We typically research our own candidates as well as their opponents, so they'll know how they could be attacked. It's essential. So when you see a candidate getting caught flat-footed by an attack, as has happened to so many of these guys, you have to wonder how well they've done their own oppo. It's particularly crucial, post-Citizens United and the advent of SuperPACS, when huge sums of new money are available for negative ads and for the oppo research those ads are based upon. And the truth is, we're not often surprised by candidates' indiscretions, but we are continually amazed.
Is opposition research going away anytime soon? Should it?
Based on what we're seeing right now, the answer is a resounding "no." It's changing, due to the Internet and technology like voice recorders and video cams on phones, but if anything it's becoming more pervasive. If the information is documented, this is a good thing. We're choosing these people as our leaders. They should be held to a higher standard. The danger is that with the spread of technology and social networking, a lot of what passes for oppo is undocumented. As a result, the truth shares equal billing with lies and distortions. We need oppo, and not just to keep people like us employed. We need it to evaluate our leaders. But more than anything, we need it to be absolutely, unassailably true. Therein lies the rub.