Yes, “trackers” HAVE gone wild, and then some

A shot from video footage taken outside the home of a candidate.

Earlier today, Politico posed the question on Twitter, “Democratic trackers gone wild?

While most serious campaigns on both sides use campaign trackers — staffers whose job is to record on video every public appearance and statement by an opponent — House Democrats are taking it to another level. They’re now recording video of the homes of GOP congressmen and candidates and posting the raw footage on the Internet for all to see.

That ratcheting up of the video surveillance game is unnerving Republicans who insist that even by political standards, it’s a gross invasion of privacy. Worse, they say, it creates a safety risk for members of Congress and their families at a time when they are already on edge after a deranged gunman shot former Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords 18 months ago.

Wisconsin GOP Rep. Reid Ribble, who said he’s also been followed by a cameraman when shopping for groceries, said the home videos cross a line.

“I feel it’s totally inappropriate,” said Ribble, a freshman facing a competitive race for reelection. “It was disturbing to me that they would put that online. I don’t understand any political benefit that can be achieved with that.”…

Yes, indeed, say I. They’ve gone too far. But then, I think the whole phenomenon went overboard, across the spectrum, years ago. I have a low threshold with this kind of stuff.

There’s nothing illegal, certainly, about following one’s opponent around with a video camera. And everyone does it, right? One can even argue that a conscientious candidate should be fully aware of what his opponent has to say.

But in this era of saturation communication, stalking one’s opponent with a camera hoping for a slipup, a gotcha! moment, is not only unnecessary, there’s something low about it. And I confess that when I’m at a political event, and I spot the opposition’s tracker, I can’t help looking upon that person with something akin to disdain.

I don’t expect many people to agree with me on this. Certainly not many journalists today, since so much of their material comes from this sort of thing.

But I was always a different sort of journalist. I always wanted to know what a candidate has to say after he thinks for a minute, not what he says when he misspeaks. Some pop-Freudians believe the slip is the truth. Sometimes it is, sadly. But I’ve always valued more what the candidate says when you give him or her a chance to think a little harder about it. When a candidate says, “That’s not what I meant,” the gotcha folks snicker. Me, I start paying closer attention to find out what he or she did mean. And I flatter myself that I can tell, usually, if the further explanation is just blowing smoke.

Maybe I look for the second thought because that’s how I hope (idealist that I am) that they will govern — in a deliberative manner, with their ideas morphing and growing and getting better in a ferment with other ideas. I want to be governed by what people think upon further reflection, not the first thing that pops into their heads.

And even if they never achieve that, I want to give them every opportunity to do so.  I want to hear the “yes, but…,” the second and third and fourth thoughts. I want depth of consideration. Deliberation, the thing upon which republican government relies.

But the “tracker” is a manifestation of a political culture that does not value further reflection. And therefore is a sign of a political culture in decline.

23 thoughts on “Yes, “trackers” HAVE gone wild, and then some

  1. `Kathryn Braun Fenner

    I was asked to support some local Democratic trackers. I declined. While finding ridiculous quotes is like shooting fish in a barrel with a lot of the pols around here, it just doesn’t build a stronger political community.

    When it happens, we “in the know” get to feel all smug, but the base for the person who is being ridiculed just doubles down. It does not bode well for the republic.

    Can’t we all just get along?

    Reply
  2. Karen McLeod

    Why would I be interested in what a politician’s house looks like? As for catching “bloopers”–either it was a private conversation, which someone was evesdropping on (what we might say to a friend in private can be unkind or petty; it’s a way of blowing off steam) or several other people heard it, too, and most probably recorded it. There’s just no need for that sort of behavior. We need to call it what it is and express our disaproval of that sort of behavior.

    Reply
  3. Phillip

    Of course, in the case of Herman Cain, it was precisely “when he was given a chance to think about it” that his candidacy became doomed: “…Libya….”

    Reply
  4. Steven Davis II

    “Democrats behaving like Republicans? Shocking!”

    Republicans were going to counter, by behaving like Democrats, but they had to postpone the event because the shipment of skirts didn’t make it in time.

    Reply
  5. Brad

    Well, as I was about to say to Burl before Steven weighed in… We know we’re in a bad place when one side has to justify its action by pointing out that the other side does it.

    I don’t know who started this practice, but I don’t like it.

    And Phillip — yes, given more rope, candidates will often hang themselves. For me, the goal has always been to give a candidate every chance to express what he thinks as clearly and fully as possible, in the words of his own choosing. Even if what he’s saying isn’t true, I think we learn a lot about a candidate just from hearing exactly how he WANTS to be perceived…

    Reply
  6. Brad

    I have been known, on one or two occasions, to allow a source space for a full op-ed piece, even when the piece is almost 100 percent nonsense… and run a piece of my own, right across from it, demolishing it. That way the reader/voter has a chance to see that party’s full case, as well as the arguments against it.

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  7. bud

    I have been known, on one or two occasions, to allow a source space for a full op-ed piece, even when the piece is almost 100 percent nonsense.
    -Brad

    An example would be good. Sometimes people think they demolish something but it turns out not to be the case. Let the bloggers be the judge.

    Reply
  8. Bryan Caskey

    “We know we’re in a bad place when one side has to justify its action by pointing out that the other side does it.” -Brad

    We don’t let our children get away with that kind of… excuse. The problem is that we’ve gotten to a point where it’s tribal. Nothing your side does is wrong, and nothing the other side does is right.

    Heck, Carolina and Clemson fans get along better than Republicans and Democrats. At least the the fans acknowledge when the other team is doing something right or well. (Albeit grudgingly)

    Think about that. Carolina and Clemson fans as a whole are probably more civil towards each other than the partisans in our political parties.

    Maybe it’s because college football is more important around here than politics, so we have better people involved.

    Reply
  9. Steven Davis II

    “and run a piece of my own, right across from it, demolishing it.”

    So in other words, you get the last word.

    Reply
  10. `Kathryn Braun Fenner

    @Steven Davis II–You only just figured out that Brad gets the last word?

    Never get into a pissing contest with a cop or someone in the media…..

    Reply
  11. Brad

    Damn straight.

    Of course, I guess it depends on which one they read first…

    Bud says, “An example would be good.”

    Hmmm. I said, “on one or two occasions.” I can think of a couple — although with the one that is the better example, I don’t even remember who the person was or what the subject was. I just remember that I did that, and it stirred a reaction.

    The second time was a response to an op-ed by Glenn McConnell.

    Even the second one must have been before I started blogging, because I’m not finding a trace of it on my old blog.

    Sorry.

    Reply
  12. Rose

    “Worse, they say, it creates a safety risk for members of Congress and their families at a time when they are already on edge after a deranged gunman shot former Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords 18 months ago.”

    And yet Republicans say that the violent, paranoid rhetoric they use doesn’t have any bad effect on people. Now, there are plenty of nuts out there that will act out their violent fantasies no matter what. But there are also those who will seize on those violent words from their officials and leaders and decide that they have tacit approval to cross the line.

    That doesn’t mean the Dems have to do it too – or become stalkers. I agree it’s a risk to their families.

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  13. tavis micklash

    “I have been known, on one or two occasions, to allow a source space for a full op-ed piece, even when the piece is almost 100 percent nonsense”

    Its not your problem to prove the other sides case for them.

    I’ve pretty much accepted that I do not have it in me as a blogger to be neutral and just report the news as I see. I’ve turned into more of an activist.

    If the opposition gives me an interview then by all means I report it fairly. I feel I go out of my way to show them respect and add then debate the issue.

    I think this is really just a biproduct of both sides moving farther away from the center. With jerrymandering the districts and the power of the extreme groups there is little advantage in working with the other side. Go against the fringe elements and you get a primary challenger which is the TRUE threat nowadays.

    Since I’m a moderate I believe in getting all groups to the bargaining table for that “grand bargain”. In a good compromise no one is totally happy with the outcome.

    The stringers are also there as paparazzi. Political figures are celebrities and that is something you can sell.

    There is a reason most hi powered fund raising dinners have banned cell phones and cameras. To avoid the snap of the canadate with his arm around the wrong person and it become a propoganda poster.

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  14. kc

    Well, if anyone bothered to read the entire article, Republicans ARE “tracking” Democrats. And much of the “tracking” is being done by third parties, not people affiliated with the Democratic Party (or the GOP for that matter).

    I agree that it’s creepy and stalker-ish to follow a candidate through a grocery store with a camera. But, Mr. W, why do you look down your nose at people you ID as trackers at “political events?” These are public events. So what’s the problem?

    Also, I don’t recall anyone complaining about the media staking out the houses of people who aren’t even politicians who have been thrust into the news, or the media running videos, pictures, etc of these houses, or about journalists chasing people down and sticking mikes in their faces.

    Just sayin’ . . .

    Reply
  15. Brad

    Oh, I don’t hold with that, either. Since you brought it up.

    That is, if you’re talking about people who are not public figures.

    I don’t like the “Chase ’em down and shout a question” method of interviewing with public figures, either, because it’s not the way to get good answers.

    However… if a public official is making himself scarce and dodging real interviews, and you can only get access during short snatches of time — such as when a president who hasn’t had a press conference in a long time is walking from the helicopter into the house — then you make the most of the opportunity.

    There’s one stark case, that a lot of people remember, in which I did that. I had stood through that ridiculously long, meandering press conference in which Mark Sanford had confessed what he’d been up to in Argentina, and no one had asked the one relevant question: Are you going to continue to be governor? He had said he was quitting as head of the governor’s conference, which sort of left the obvious question hanging, and no one had asked it, and the governor was turning and walking away.

    So I — who had not asked any questions (I don’t believe in asking questions at a press conference unless it’s unavoidable; I’ll explain the thinking behind that sometime) up to that point, did what none of the reporters present had done. I called out to him to tell us whether he was going to resign. And when I got no answer, I called again.

    Still no answer. In fact, we never did get a satisfactory answer to that one, in spite of his incessant, narcissistic wallowing in the scandal over the next few months.

    Reply
  16. kc

    I agree with you for the most part.

    I will look forward to hearing why you don’t believe in asking questions at a press conference – shoot, I thought that was the whole point of having one . . .

    Reply
  17. Brad

    Press conferences, for the most part, exist for TV — for media that need something to take video of, and that tend to employ less experienced, and less specialized, reporters, and which have little need to go deeper than a few basic questions, because their time is so limited.

    A print reporter is better off getting his information in in-depth, one-on-one interviews, unless he just doesn’t care about providing his readers with something beyond what they see on TV.

    Sometimes, though, if you have a source who’s being evasive, then you have no choice but to ask your questions in front of everyone else. But you’re not going to get as good a story that way.

    I always told my reporters they should attend press conferences defensively, in case something unanticipated came up. But I also told them that if they WERE surprised by anything said in such a venue, they weren’t doing their jobs very well…

    Reply
  18. Brad

    Of course, I’m talking about the attitude I had when I supervised reporters, which was a long time ago. Now, the lines between media have been blurred. Print is no longer limited by space, and TV is no longer limited by time. Newspapers shoot video, and TV stations publish text.

    But still, the fact remains — if you get all of your info at a press conference, you’re not going to have anything different from what everybody else has. And I think every reporter with any pride — print, broadcast or whatever — should want to do more than that.

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  19. Burl Burlingame

    Chasing people is just not …dignified.

    Also, stalkerazzi tend to focus on the families, which is just plain creepy.

    Reply
  20. Jmaz

    Laughable… trackign them and videoing their homes to “show voters how Republicans have made themselves rich”. Uhhh… these idiots should check Opensecrets.org and take a look at who REALLY has all the money in Congress. Seven of the top 10 wealthiest members of Congress are DEMOCRATS.

    Reply
  21. Steven Davis II

    @Kathryn – “Never get into a pissing contest with a cop or someone in the media….”

    Or anyone who works in IT. Your life at work can become a living hell in a matter of just a few keystrokes.

    Reply

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