Our chapter on mass media explains how reporters draw on opposition research from political organizations. At Reuters, Tim Reid recounts how a tracker caught Rick Perry in an embarrassing comment. He uses it to illustrate how social media and other technological advances have changed the field.
"This is a golden age" of opposition research, said Jeff Berkowitz, who dug dirt on Democratic candidates for the Republican National committee from 2002 to 2010. The sort of search tools that discovered presidential candidate Joe Biden's plagiarism in 1987 have become more sophisticated and the outlets to shop damaging information are now virtually unlimited.
When these advances are "combined with outside funding," Berkowitz said, "you will see significantly more opposition research from significantly more sources." And it will all happen at warp speed, as both Republican candidate Herman Cain and the women who accused him of sexual harassment quickly learned, amid a barrage of daily revelations about their personal lives.
American Bridge is typical of the new reality. It was founded in November 2010, after the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case opened the door to "SuperPACs," political action committees that are able to raise unlimited amounts of anonymous money to craft attack and advocacy ads during campaigns. The fledgling Democratic research organization now has 15 trackers nationwide filming GOP candidates for Congress and the White House and 25 researchers in Washington poring over this footage and pushing it out to the public.
"The fastest way to disseminate information is through social media, such as Twitter and Facebook," American Bridge's Communications Director Chris Harris told Reuters. "And if it's good footage, it will spread exponentially."
Berkowitz agrees: "Now YouTube is old hat. Now you have Twitter. Twitter is better because it breaks news faster. You can push things around on Twitter. It's like wildfire. Twitter both provides information and also provides the dissemination mechanism. Campaigns are going to have to adapt to that."