Is Republican Oppo Research Really This Awful, Or is the News Media Not Doing Its Job?

Within the last week, two prominent Democrats have had major bombshells from their past detonated in ways that have probably destroyed their future political aspirations. Neither of these long-held secrets, however, came to be publicly known while they were actually running against Republicans for the offices that they now hold.

I’m referring to Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook was just revealed to contain a racist photo on his personal page, while Warren’s 1986 registration to the Texas state bar has her race outrageously listed, apparently in her own handwriting, as “American Indian.”

Both of these scandalous exposures, had they been known to the voters at the time of certain elections, would have easily caused these candidates to be defeated by Republicans they beat in fairly close contests. And yet, somehow, the Republican operatives working for their opponents, Ed Gillespie and Scott Brown respectively (in 2018 Warren won a race that was not competitive), never found these politically potent nuclear weapons.

Of course, these colossal failures of Republican reconnaissance come in the same era as the most notorious fiasco of political vetting in modern American history. It’s the one that allowed Donald Trump to somehow win the 2016 GOP presidential nomination without, for instance, the infamous “Access Hollywood Tape” seeing the light of day until it was too late to replace him.

So, what the hell is going on with Republican opposition research?! Heck, Democrats were able to take out a slam-dunk senator from Alabama in 2017 when Roy Moore had his icky past come back to haunt him right after he had secured to the GOP nomination, information that somehow eluded those working for this Republican opponent, Luther Strange.

Of course, it was The Washington Post that broke the story of Moore’s penchant for dating underage teenage girls as a full-fledged adult. And herein may lay at least part of the apparent Republican disadvantage in this area of political warfare.

The news media is often far more well equipped to find and detonate these types of bombs than campaigns are, but the mainstream media seems to be strangely uninterested in finding dirt on Democrats running for major office (or, in the case of Trump, so-called-Republicans who are good for ratings and who the media thinks will be easily defeated in the general election). The only recent exception to this rule was the destruction of former Democratic Senator Al Franken, which I still maintain was extremely unjust, and which originated on a right-wing talk radio station with the apparent help of the recently indicted dirty-trickster Roger Stone (interestingly Franken wasn’t running for election, but was a thorn in Trump’s side on the Russia investigation).

I found it rather humorous and telling that after the Northam yearbook photo came out so many media members immediately mocked the governor’s general election opponent for not having found this piece of political gold (even Trump, seemingly oblivious to the irony, tweeted the same sentiment). It never seemed to have occurred to any of them that the entire Washington, D.C. media industrial complex, which obviously is tasked with covering Virginia politics, could have easily found the same material, if only they had possessed an appetite to do so.

While on the subject of that bizarre photo of two people, one in blackface and one in a KKK costume, on Northam’s yearbook page, there is an interesting theory by conservative blogger Patterico that hasn’t gotten enough consideration. There was a ton of derisive joking about Northam over his admission that he had indeed been in blackface once, as Michael Jackson for a dancing contest, but just not in that particular photo. But what if the photo in question actually is him dressed as Michael Jackson?

If you look closely at the person in blackface, they are tall and lanky, just like Northam, and they are wearing a hat, glasses, and bowtie all similar to those worn by Michael Jackson in the early 1980s. Under this theory, Northam’s 35-year old memory is playing tricks on him. Perhaps, after having won his dance contest as Michael Jackson, he decided to reprise that role for a costume party and then stupidly agreed to be photographed with someone else in a KKK outfit as some sort of a joke.

None of this would remotely excuse what Northam did in allowing that photo to be used on this yearbook page. It might, however, help explain his otherwise inexplicable story.

Ironically, Northam may be saved by yet another potential scandal hitting a Democrat, apparently out of nowhere. His Lt. Governor, Justin Fairfax, is now facing an allegation of sexual assault, which has seemingly stemmed the rising tide of calls for Northam’s resignation.

Interestingly, the Fairfax story is not brand-new, at least not to the very same Washington Post. It turns out that the paper, just as they were taking out Moore, a white Republican running in Alabama, decided against publishing accusations, right in the middle of the #MeToo firestorm, about an incoming black Democratic Lt. Governor of a state that is right in their backyard.

To be clear, I am not suggesting any sort of conspiracy here. Just the organic impact of natural human biases, which are all too evident in every element of the modern news media. However, when it comes to why the mainstream news media has basically no credibility with President Trump’s base of support, the perception created by this large apparent gap in timely vetting is right near the top of that rather long list of reasons.

John Ziegler is a senior columnist for Mediaite. He hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud  or email him at

[Photo by Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images]

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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