I suspect most Dems have a caricature in their mind of devious Republican smear artists, who help GOP candidates pander to the public’s worst instin
January 16, 2008

I suspect most Dems have a caricature in their mind of devious Republican smear artists, who help GOP candidates pander to the public’s worst instincts. These operatives specialize in opposition research — or, “oppo” — which, as the caricature tells us, involves political hitmen digging through dirt and peddling in innuendo, all in the interests of conning voters.

In reality, the caricature is probably a bit of an exaggeration. These smear artists don’t literally dig through Democrats’ garbage; they usually pay someone else to do that. But if we wanted to match this image with a real-life example, we’d have to point to Stephen Marks, who recently published, “Confessions of a Political Hitman,” and who chatted with the NYT’s Deborah Solomon about his career.

What led you to write your new book, “Confessions of a Political Hitman,” which chronicles your rather unsavory career as a Republican Party operative who was hired in hundreds of political campaigns to dig for dirt on Democratic candidates? I wouldn’t use the word unsavory. The voter has the right to know the history of any candidate in order to make the most educated vote.

Why do you make yourself sound as benevolent as a reference librarian? Because opposition researchers perform a needed public service.

In the 2000 election, you produced an infamous anti-Gore commercial, juxtaposing footage of Gore saying Al Sharpton couldn’t be altogether discounted with unrelated footage of Sharpton giving an inflammatory speech. I happened to have gotten some footage from some anti-Sharpton groups where he urged college students to kill cops: to off the “pigs,” as he put it.

How can you justify misrepresenting Gore like that? I’ll admit that the ad was nasty and negative, but it was accurate, just like the Willie Horton ad that finished off Dukakis.

Who paid you to make the commercial? Some folks in Tennessee who didn’t like Al Gore.

How do you sleep at night? Very well, thank you.

Asked specifically if he has any “moral qualms” about his professional efforts, Marks said, “No.”

Marks seems to understand perfectly well that he’s sleazy, and has smeared honorable candidates with garbage, but at the same time, he’s also quite pleased with himself.

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