Opposition research has changed in the Internet era. The job is harder and more consuming: More facts are available, but also more rumors, half-truths and outright balderdash.
Tactics have evolved, too. While past campaigns often leaked tidbits of damaging information to reporters in careful fashion — largely to sidestep accusations of playing dirty political tricks — the contemporary approach is more direct.
Last week, American Bridge 21st Century launched a preemptive strike, unveiling a website featuring its full books on possible Republican vice presidential nominees Marco Rubio, Tim Pawlenty and Rob Portman, never mind that Mr. Romney has yet to make his choice.
One thing that hasn’t evolved, Mr. Yedwab said, is the negative perception of opposition researchers — a perception often exploited by the same politicians who hire and rely on them.
“There are still a lot of people who have a discomfort with the idea that campaigns don’t just tell you warm and fuzzy stories about what their candidate is going to do, but also stories about why their opponent isn’t a guy you would want to elect,” Mr. Yedwab said.
In his class, Mr. Di Resta repeatedly makes the same point: Despite their profession’s unsavory reputation, researchers are tasked with uncovering the truth. Uncomfortable or otherwise.
Because of opposition research, he said, flip-floppers are forced to explain themselves. Unknown candidates are more thoroughly vetted. And politics is made more honest. Relatively speaking.
“One of the toughest parts of my job is arguing with political consultants that, ‘Hey, you can’t say that on TV,’” Mr. Di Resta said. “I hate when things are blatantly wrong or misleading. And that’s not just when Republicans do it. Both sides.
“I don’t want the next generation of researchers to go out there and think they are superninjas. I want them to do it the right way. It might be slightly arrogant of me to think my way is the right way, but I think if we uphold standards, campaigns will be better.”