Review: ‘We’re With Nobody’ by Alan Huffman and Michael Rejebian

by Kim on March 6, 2012 · 17 comments

Post image for Review: ‘We’re With Nobody’ by Alan Huffman and Michael Rejebian

Title: We’re With Nobody: Two Insiders Reveal the Dark Side of American Politics
Author: Alan Huffman and Michael Rejebian
Genre: Nonfiction
Year: 2012
Acquired: From the publisher for review consideration
Rating: ★★★☆☆

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.

Other Reviews:

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!

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane@BibliophileBytheSea March 6, 2012 at 5:30 am

My husband and I are very much political news junkies, and what is going on now really sickens us. Think I’d like to skim through this book for myself. Thanks for pointing it out to us.

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Kim March 6, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Despite my critiques, it was an interesting book. I didn’t realize the amount of work that can go into opposition research. I think as a political news junkie, you’d like parts of it.

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Amy March 6, 2012 at 7:41 am

Too bad, I would have expected more juicy bits in this book too. It almost seems like they were feeling people weren’t appreciating them so they wrote this book to show how awesome they are? I find it odd that they could try to claim they have nothing to do with the dirty politics either, saying they just pass over their findings is still… you know…

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Kim March 6, 2012 at 7:26 pm

That was the part that didn’t quite mesh with me, being able to just ignore the results of research. I just can’t imagine being able to disconnect like that, but perhaps that’s why I’m not in opposition research!

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Trisha March 6, 2012 at 8:59 am

No juicy details! Dang. I’m not a political junkie, so without the dirty little secrets, a book like this holds very little appeal for me. ;)

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Kim March 6, 2012 at 7:26 pm

I think it does limit the audience a bit, since without the juicy bits it’s really more of a political nerd book.

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bermudaonion (Kathy) March 6, 2012 at 9:26 am

It sounds like this book didn’t live up to its potential. :\

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Kim March 6, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Not quite, I just think there was a disconnect between the promise and the delivery.

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Jenny March 6, 2012 at 7:19 pm

I wonder how much of the promise of the title was ordained by the authors, and how much by the publishers. I can envision a world in which the authors were like, “Our job is cool and not morally wrong, and the people oughta know!”, and the publishers were like, “Yeah yeah definitely, but let’s put this awesome subtitle and this ominous cover on it.” :p

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Kim March 6, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Oh, I definitely think that was a big part of it. There was a part in the latter half of the book where the authors talked about what they wanted the book to be about, which doesn’t really match with the marketing part of it.

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Pam March 6, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Ugh. I hate political books. You are my hero for getting through it!

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Kim March 18, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Oh, it wasn’t that much of a slog. It was short book, and there were enough funny parts that the stuff I’m glad I read it even if it’s not destined to be a favorite.

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Christy (A Good Stopping Point) March 8, 2012 at 8:45 pm

I saw these guys on the Daily Show. Not an interview that made me want to rush out and read it, but I was a little curious so I’m glad to read your review on it and think I’ll be satisfied with that.

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Kim March 18, 2012 at 1:40 pm

I need to go find that interview. I’m really curious how they appear in person… and if that would explain some of the tone of the book, you know? Like, that’s just their style.

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Beth March 11, 2012 at 11:30 am

Just heard author interviwed on Bob Edwards show. Hard to believe the guy was a journalist. Some rudimentary English lessons should focus on who/whom, his use of which was distracting to what he was saying.

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Kim March 18, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Funny. I didn’t think the writing was bad. It wasn’t the spectacular kind you quote extensively, but it was decent.

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