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Toward a tracker code

You’ve heard – well, if you’re reading this, you probably heard – about the video operator in mid-2006, a Democratic operative, who followed Virginia Senator George Allen around at public events, captured whatever he said or did. Allen one day made the mistake of talking about him and using the word “Macaca” in describing him, touching off a cascading series of blowups that eventually helped cost him a seat in the Senate.

That video operator was a “tracker” – that’s the job title now – and trackers these days are employed or put up with by most candidates for major office. Around here, we watched one watching 2006 Republican Senate candidate Mike McGavick, who occasionally referred to him on his travels around the state (but never made anything resembling a “Macaca” mistake). Trackers are busy again this year, on both sides in Oregon’s Senate race, and they’re becoming the subject of some contention.

Probably some kind of an informal but standard code of behavior is needed for this sort of thing. And probably it needs to start with acknowledgment of who the tracker is, and what he or she is doing there. It probably should continue with a strong press on candidates to allow the other side in, as, for example, McGavick did. (The results of the tracking didn’t seem, in his case, to do his candidacy any harm.)

The new round in Oregon started with a Eugene Register-Guard report about a Republican tracker who made his way into events held by Senate Democratic candidate Jeff Merkley. The tracker, Tim Lussier, apparently wrote the campaign to say that he was “a local activist and a big fan of Jeff. I’d love to find out when I can see him speak.” So they let him in.

Then they found out he has a substantial background with Republican politics and had even posted on line a picture of himself with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Russ Kelley of the Merkley campaign had a gripe about that: “But there’s an honest way to do it, and there’s a dishonest way to do it. You find out where they are through public notices and things like that. You don’t call and misrepresent yourself.”

That seems fair enough.

Republican blogger I Am Coyote at NW Republican had something of a counterpoint: A piece about a Democratic tracker who has tracked Republican Senator Gordon Smith, accompanied by a photo showing him wearing a press pass. He wrote: “Senator Smith was speaking with Wyden at the Oregon Business Summit’s meeting and this individual worked his way in as ‘press’ so he could shoot footage.”

That drew quick response from Marc Siegel of the Oregon Democratic Party: “Please correct your post about the DPO’s tracker. Our tracker told the organizers of the event who he was and who he worked for and they asked him to wear that badge and let him in. He told the truth, yet you are calling him a liar.”

There’s another question here too, though. If he was asked to label himself as press by the holders of the event, then the tracker isn’t to blame. But a deception was going on anyway, even if the fault wasn’t strictly on any side of the partisan line.

As we burrow deeper into the age of UTube, these kinds of things will be coming up. Maybe time has come to set a few guidelines.

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