Videotaped opposition research a standard in political campaigns

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(Host) Political campaigns are turning to video cameras to document their opponents every move and perhaps to capture a stumble. A recent incident involving Governor Jim Douglas’ re-election campaign shows that sometimes the taping can be controversial.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Last week, a member of the Douglas campaign staff went to community college classroom to tape Democratic challenger Scudder Parker. The candidate was addressing a political science class and the event was on his public schedule.

Middlebury College Political Science Professor Eric Davis says videotaping is now a standard part of politics.

(Davis) “What they’re looking for is a statement which could be taken often out of context and used in a commercial or other type of campaign communication.”

(Dillon) Davis says the candidates themselves are used to the taping. But Laura Rubenis, the college professor, has written Douglas to complain that his aide misrepresented himself about why he was there. The Parker campaign says the aide only identified himself after being confronted by the professor.

Douglas campaign manage Dennise Casey says that’s not true. She says the aide was up front about what he was doing, and that Parker and the teacher consented to the taping. Casey says the campaign wants to document what Parker says about the issues.

(Casey) “If you look at Scudder Parker’s schedule you will see that he is not really spending any time holding press conferences, or addressing groups of people on a regular basis so we were just looking for an opportunity to hear him speak.”

(Dillon) Parker campaign manager Tuck Rainwater says there’s nothing wrong with videotaping as long as people know who’s doing it, and why.

(Rainwater) “There’s a real line between playing hard and playing dirty. And videotaping in and of itself is playing hard, but when you catch students and a professor in the fire that definitely crosses that line.”

(Dillon) But Casey of the Douglas campaign says the complaints are politically motivated.

Davis, the Middlebury political science professor, says the Douglas campaign struck videotape gold in 2004. In that race, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Clavelle was shown verbally stumbling as he tried to explain his health care plan.

(Davis) “What I think it puts a premium on now is candidates need to be on their toes at every event where’s there’s someone with a camera, whether it’s a formal press conference, or simply a meeting with some voters where there may be someone in the back of the room doing some taping.”

(Dillon) With every campaign equipped with a video camera, voters can expect to hear a few more tales of the tape before Election Day.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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