How Arianna did it

I talked with Arianna Huffington tonight and asked how she got her scoop revealing who made the Hillary 1984 attack commercial. It was a true case of networked, bottoms-up journalism.

While the rest of media was tripping over themselves to do the same story of the Hillary ad, weeks after it came out, and idly wondering who made it, Arianna dispatched her troops to do real reporting. She said about 30 people were involved at first, making phone calls and digging into what they knew, debunking some leads and following others. Finally, it came down to contacts and a little technology. Arianna said that YouTube revealed nothing about the video’s maker or his account. But the guy apparently left some turkey tracks with his email. And a Huffpo person knew someone who knew someone — and so on — who confirmed the identity of the mysterious video man, Phil De Vellis.

Then Arianna called him. She said he was genuinely surprised and thought he would never be unmasked. She offered him the chance to write a post about what he did and why. After some delay — when he apparently dealt with his employers and become a former employee — he came back and delivered that post.

Arianna is admiring of him. She said he put out a message without any desire for fame. She says he told no lies in the ad.

I look at it differently. I think he hid, the chicken, behind online anonymity. It’s also quite possible that he did his man Obama no favors, as some will think the candidate made this and will think less of him for starting the attacks so early.

But Arianna and I agree that the campaigns, which are all about control, are going to be less and less in control as more people use YouTube and the internet to get their own messages out.

(Crossposted at PrezVid.)

  • JohnFromMinnesota

    He may be chicken, but his post on Arianna’s site sounds a lot like your posts: the game has changed, the people are in control, etc.

  • The people will be in control so long as they create their own content.

    If they routinely rip off companies like Apple, ad agency “creatives,” directors, and post houses, this trend will go nowhere, ’cause they’re going to get their asses sued. Dontcha think?

    I’m partly with Arianna and partly with Jeff. The guy’s use of anonymity bothers me—and clearly, he needed to be anonymous to get it out there—but you can’t argue with the effectiveness of the video or the fact that one person has made …some sort of difference.

  • If this really is the sign of things to come, 2008 is going to be an incredible election to watch.

  • Let me see if I get this straight – a common political attack-ad, made by a professional political operative, pushed into big media by an extremely popular right-wing media gatekeeper (Drudge) – means It’s A New Era and the people are in control …

  • goethe girl

    Your report really didn’t give any info on how Huffington discovered the identity: phone calls, digging into what they knew, etc. — that doesn’t tell us anything.

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  • Cooler Heads

    I think he did Obama a big favor. He painted Hillary for what she is, and he did it because he wanted to. It’s not like the Obama came out and told us what to think. Another regular guy did. That is very powerful.

  • Southwerk

    What he did was wrong. He made an ad while participating in a campaign that enabled him to attack without responsibility. He made a genuinely interesting commercial. However, his example points the way for more scurrilous attacks using the same technology.

  • Ed

    Remember the days when editors in a newsroom would “dispatch” their troops to do some reporting and get the story?

    The internecine Democratic politics in this story are a lot less interesting to me than how the news was uncovered. How much is Arianna’s newsroom budget? And she got the story before the major cable outfits, newspapers and magazines?

    Holy cow.

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  • HI,

    That was a hell of a job. Congratulations Ariana!
    I guess that’s what real journalism is, “Finding the truth and the source, no matter what”.

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  • There will probably be dozens more videos like this in the lead up to the 2008 elections. Look for GOP operatives to put one out every other day bashing whoever the Democratic nominee is.

  • TJC in FL

    Jeff – it’s not just about getting their messages out. In effect, this video functioned as a probe. Suppose someone in the Obama camp was wondering, “Could we associate Hillary with Big Brother? Would that stick?” Now they have their answer: it stuck. It doesn’t matter whether the Obama camp was behind this or not. If it hadn’t stuck, if no one viewed the Youtube video, then there would have been no cost or negative exposure for Obama. This is a great (if cowardly) way for candidates to float their own balloons, or to sling test mud at their opponents. We will see a lot more of this.

  • It’ll be very interesting to find out who offers him his next job…and how quickly…

  • One of the things that I find so amazing about all of this is that these guys are from the same political party! It’s very odd for a Brit to get their head around that fact. Here when there is a leadership campaign there is certainly stealth tactics and dirty tricks, but it’s al behind closed doors, press leaks etc – nothing so blatant and head-line grabbing.

  • Am I the only one wondering “what is the big deal?” This is an election – right? If HRC cannot address with issue and find a way to answer it – she should not be the Democratic nominee. On the other hand we have war without end, serious bugetary problems on top of the stifiling of the middle class by our wonderful government.

    We have better things to talk about.