Does Oppo Research Belong in The Newsroom?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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You’ve probably heard about the latest dustup over the Free Beacon’s use of files from the University of Arkansas library. Their reporting has already had a major impact (big enough to garner the push-back they are now receiving), and much will be written about the latest wrinkle(s) to the story.

But the part of the story that interested me the most was this (from Politico):

Shawn Reinschmiedt, a former research director for the Republican National Committee who now runs a political intelligence firm and has a contract with the Free Beacon, provided the site with the Clinton files from the University of Arkansas library, according to the report.

On one hand, this makes perfect sense. Modern reporters are expected to be good writers, have an active social media presence, appear on TV — you name it! Why should they be expected to be good researchers, too?

Granted, there are investigative reporters out there who can do everything from read FEC reports to engage in skulduggery over arrest records and the like. But, at some level, doesn’t it make sense to simply hire trained professionals to do this work — and then feed it to the journalists?

No doubt, many newsrooms employ “researchers,” but I’m guessing few of them are (or were) professional oppo research operatives. And this is where it gets messy. Sure, you’ve got debates over whether or not they should get a byline, but the bigger problem is optics.

Ostensibly, journalists are fact-finders, but hiring partisan “opposition” researchers risks looking more like an activist campaign than a journalistic outfit. It would be easy to decry the motives — and to lament the trend whereby the lines are blurred between modern media and political campaigns.

On the other hand, it’s fair to point out that the information revealed by WFB has been solid — and that the public has every right to know about Hillary Clinton’s defense of a child rapist, for example, before voting for her for president. What is more, it’s not like the mainstream media would otherwise be pursuing this story.

Perhaps there’s an easy solution: Is the Free Beacon employing any Democratic oppo researchers to dig into Rand Paul’s background? Maybe — and that would at least make it nice and bipartisan.

Matt K. Lewis