While discussing objections raised by Sen. Susan Collins' chief of staff to a tracker hired by the Maine Democratic Party, CNN's Miles O'Brien suggested that political tracking became widespread only after the 2006 midterm elections. In fact, CNN and other news organizations have noted campaigns' use of trackers since at least 1996.
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On the August 17 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, while discussing objections raised by Sen. Susan Collins' (R-ME) chief of staff to a tracker hired by the Maine Democratic Party to record Collins' campaign appearances, guest host Miles O'Brien suggested that political tracking became widespread only after the 2006 midterm elections: "Former Senator George Allen's [R-VA] 'macaca' moment [in 2006] changed the political game. Now, it seems every candidate is being dogged by so-called 'trackers,' hoping to catch that fatal mistake on video." O'Brien later asked CNN Internet reporter Abbi Tatton: "[T]hese days, there's always a camera out there, isn't there?" But contrary to O'Brien's suggestion that tracking is a relatively new phenomenon, CNN and other news organizations have noted campaigns' use of trackers since at least 1996.
In a public letter to Rep. Tom Allen's (D-ME) Senate campaign, Steve Abbott, Collins' chief of staff, complained about the tracker hired by the Maine Democratic Party: "Tactics such as tracking demean the political process, contribute to voter cynicism, and have no place in the type of substantive issues-oriented campaigns that our voters deserve."
During the Situation Room segment, O'Brien said that Collins is "particularly upset about this whole phenomenon." Tatton added that "[a]n aide to Senator Collins ... call[ed] this intrusive and demeaning to the political process."
CNN and several other news organizations have noted the widespread use of tracking dating back at least 10 years:
- On the February 16, 1996, edition of CNN's Inside Politics, then-CNN senior Washington correspondent Charles Bierbauer noted the videotaping of Republican candidates by Joe Elcock, a researcher hired by the New Hampshire Democratic Party: "The DNC bought two Hi8 cameras and sent one to Iowa, where it showed up at a [then-Sen.] Phil Gramm [R-TX] rally. Joe Elcock got the other. His job, paid for by the state committee, is known in the political trade as opposition research. Since January, Elcock says he's tracked every Republican candidate in New Hampshire."
- On the August 29, 2000, edition of Inside Politics, while discussing the New York Senate race between Hillary Rodham Clinton and then-Rep. Rick Lazio (R), then-CNN national correspondent Frank Buckley noted: "The full-court press even includes a video tracker from state Democrats, who follows the candidate, even as Lazio aides attempt to block his shot."
- On October 3, 2002, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported: "The gubernatorial campaign of Independence Party candidate Tim Penny called the St. Cloud police recently and was considering seeking a restraining order against a Republican tracker who they said was deliberately in Penny's face after his speeches."
- In a November 23, 2003, article (subscription required), The New York Times reported: "Behind every candidate is an army of foot soldiers, some more visible than others, whose job is to monitor and undermine the opposition. ... They include 'trackers' who monitor and record rival candidates. ... Candidates also distance themselves from the use of trackers, although they are common and have been for years. ... Democrats are not the only ones out there. Though President Bush faces no primary opposition, the Republicans have been paying trackers for months to keep tabs on the Democrats."
- As noted on The New Republic's The Plank blog, the Rapid City Journal reported on August 14, 2004, that Dick Wadhams, campaign manager to then-GOP Senate candidate John Thune, approached then-Sen. Tom Daschle's (D-SD) tracker and said: "Your boss is a chickens**t. You know that, right?"
- On October 12, 2006, CNN's Political Ticker AM linked to an October 12, 2006, Los Angeles Times article in which Michael Cornfield, adjunct professor of political management at George Washington University, was quoted as saying, "In the past, people were assigned to shadow campaigns and had cameras or tape recorders, but they never had a way to instantly post what it is they came up with."
- On the October 24, 2006, edition of CNN International's Insight, then-Fishbowl DC blogger Garrett Graff told host Jonathan Mann: "[N]one of these trackers that we've seen on the [Jon] Tester [D] race in Montana or the [George] Allen race in Virginia, that's not new."
From the August 17 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
O'BRIEN: Former Senator George Allen's "macaca" moment changed the political game. Now, it seems every candidate is being dogged by so-called "trackers," hoping to catch that fatal mistake on video.
And, as you can imagine, some of them are none too happy about it.
Internet reporter Abbi Tatton is here. Abbi, let's talk about Senator Susan Collins. She is particularly upset about this whole phenomenon.
TATTON: Miles, it's her campaign. An aide to Senator Collins saying this week -- calling this intrusive and demeaning to the political process. Take a look at this video. A tracker for the Maine Democratic Party, hired recently to gather intelligence on opponents, seen here videotaping Senator Collins at a parade last weekend.
Now, a spokeswoman for the Maine Democratic Party called these accusations hyperbole. They have posted on YouTube the tracker's own video to, in their words, show how innocuous it is.
[begin video clip]
COLLINS: So, are you my tracker, Rick?
RICK REDMOND (Maine Democratic Party tracker): Yes, ma'am.
COLLINS: OK. Well, I'll be seeing you on the campaign trail.
[end video clip]
TATTON: "I'll be seeing you on the campaign trail," she says.
And no doubt, we'll be seeing a lot of trackers on the campaign trail. Tracking is becoming a more visible component of campaigning -- its most famous victim, of course, former Senator George Allen.
And since that "macaca" moment, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has been giving some how-to advice. In their Internet guidebook that they put out earlier this summer for Republican campaigns, they're saying to these campaigns, it's likely that Democrats are going to be filming your candidate's every move. Their advice: Act accordingly, and think about filming your opponents as well -- Miles.
O'BRIEN: Yeah, these days, there's always a camera out there, isn't there?
TATTON: There's always a camera, and it's all posted online.
O'BRIEN: Abbi Tatton, thank you very much.