Title: We’re With Nobody: Two Insiders Reveal the Dark Side of American Politics
Author: Alan Huffman and Michael Rejebian
Acquired: From the publisher for review consideration
One Sentence Summary: Opposition researchers Alan Huffman and Michael Rejebian share details about their work, digging through public records to reveal the secrets that political candidates and their opponents may or may not use during the course of a campaign season.
One Sentence Review: Huffman and Rejebian’s book suggests dark secrets but delivers a slightly bland celebration of opposition researchers as relentless truth seekers with no control over how their work is ultimately used (or misused).
Why I Read It: As much as I dislike politicians and political rhetoric, I’m still a political process junkie, which made this book seem right up my alley.
Long Review: Former journalists Alan Huffman and Michael Rejebian are opposition researchers. What does that mean? “We’re hired by campaigns to compile politically damning profiles of candidates,” explains Huffman in We’re With Nobody. Relentless truth-seekers, Huffman and Rejebian spend most of their time battling with reluctant civil servants over access to public records, collecting any and all documentation they can find that can tell a story about a politician’s words and actions. After gathering their data and writing a report, “We present our findings, based on the records, then abdicate control and move on,” explains Huffman. The job makes Huffman and Rejebian “part investigator, part critic, [and] part paid informant.”
There were a lot of things I really enjoyed about We’re With Nobody, but on the whole the book suffers a bit from not delivering on what it promises. Rather than being a book full of juicy details about the way opposition research can be used to derail the political process (or, what I consider the “dark side of American politics”), the book defends the work of the opposition researcher and even makes it seem like a noble occupation. If you believe Huffman and Rejebian, the problems of political discourse are not the result of opposition researchers, but of the way political campaigns distort the truth that opposition researchers dig up.
Most of what I enjoyed about the book were the stories that Huffman and Rejebian shared about battling reluctant and recalcitrant government employees in search of very specific pieces of information. It’s totally nerdy, I’ll admit, but as a journalist I can understand how difficult it can be to find information that anyone in the public is legally entitled to have. Huffman and Rejebian have a great sense of humor about the process, and even include a very funny list of tips for how to make successful public records requests.
But in between those anecdotes — which are frustratingly general, given that neither writer describes any campaign or candidate in detail — the book is, basically, a defense of opposition research that constantly and relentlessly reminds the reader that Huffman and Rejebian are really just two guys looking for the truth. What happens after they get the information is out of their control:
“Our job is simply to find, document and collect. The judges and juries lie within the voting booths and campaign offices.” (Rejebian)
“We are, ultimately, two naturally subjective guys with an unwaveringly objective agenda.” (Huffman)
“The most effective opposition research isn’t necessarily the most chocking, particularly since few of us are truly shocked by much anymore. What work best are activities that stand in stark contract to a candidate’s public action or states positions on the issues.” (Huffman)
While that understanding of opposition research is probably true, it doesn’t quite jive with the way the book is presented and, therefore, feels like the book over-promises a little bit.
Given my cynicism with political campaigns, it seems wrong that I should be criticizing a political book for being uncontroversial; you’d think that discovering that opposition research isn’t (or at least doesn’t have to be) dark or dirty would make me happy. And while that part of it does, I still can’t quite shake the feeling that We’re With Nobody ended up feeling a little bit bland.
If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!