Home > Faculty, Media Appearances, Political Campaigns > Here’s What I Really Had to Say About Trackers

Here’s What I Really Had to Say About Trackers

Michael Fitzgerald’s blog

More on Andal’s “tracker” and tracking 

Brian E. Klunk, Chair of the Political Science Department at University of the Pacific, expands on the ethics of tracking, the subject of Sunday’s column.

I’m usually a little better when I think for a couple minutes. Let me give you a more coherent summary of my reactions.

1. In principle trackers are a good thing. They make it more difficult for candidates to pander inconsistently or to narrowcast to a particular constituency, saying one thing here and another thing there. That said, the practice, which goes back at least to the ’96 campaign, probably leads candidates to be more cautious about ever straying from their canned talking points. It’s not a good thing to make smart people act like they are stupid. One of the attractive things, for example, about Patrick Johnston (who I have to disclose is teaching for my department this year) was his ability to speak in an informed, thoughtful, and expansive way in public about, say, books he had read. If a politician knows that he or she is being taped, he or she is much more likely to stick to a bland and fairly contentless script. So, ironically what starts out apparently to make candidates more transparent may lead to them being more cloaked.

2. There are opportunities for abuse.

a. I don’t have a problem with not identifying the tracker as long as we know who is paying him or her. The basic standard of campaign ethics is that we should be able to hold the appropriate party responsible for what happens in a campaign and that’s really the campaign, party, group that hired the tracker more than the tracker himself or herself. But as you note, it is sometimes not possible to find out who is paying a particular tracker.

b. There is no problem with a tracker attending public events. A school board meeting is open. Other events are not open to general publics and there would be a problem with a tracker misrepresenting who he or she is or claiming to have an invitation when he or she doesn’t.

c. A “neutral” tracker is generally not problematic, but you have to think that there are tracker/confederate combos out there trying to provoke reactions from candidates so they can be captured on video and sent viral. That becomes something like entrapment

3. Also as noted, the tracker may be “self-employed.” Everybody has access to the technology, Youtube, Grudge, Daily Kos, Matt Yglesias, etc. The ethical onus may shift to the bloggers who are often/usually the transmission medium for this stuff.

4. Candidates obviously forfeit some expectations of privacy when they decide to run for office, but they don’t give up all privacy. There is no expectation of privacy at most campaign events, but where we assume the candidate is in a zone of privacy seems unclear.

5. There are larger issues about the de-professionalization of the media. By its nature, a profession imposes ethical limitations on those practicing the profession. The point is to lead professionals to practice in a way that promotes a public good. Many professions can do this by limiting entry to the profession, but it is becoming harder to deny access to “the media”. If anybody can be a citizen journalist with a video camera and a fast internet connection, you lose that.

Th There’s something creepy about tracking. But it has a valid use. For instance, Dean Andal was scheduled to meet last week with both the Minutemen, the self-appointed border guards and immigration restrictionists, and the Council for the Spanish Speaking.

The very thought of this schedule is grounds for suspicion that a candidate is going to bloviate one thing to the first group and another to the second. To the Minutemen: Tortilla Curtain. To the Concilio: open borders and a pathway to naturalization. Alas, Andal cancalled his appearance with the Minutemen. But they did write this:

“We thank Dean for his support and his zero tolerance against Sanctuary Cities and Illegal Invasion.”

Sounds like Andal’s tracker might have filmed half a “gotcha” video.

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