Politics
2:07 pm
Mon May 14, 2012

The Job: Dig Up Dirt On Politicians

Originally published on Mon May 14, 2012 2:52 pm

Transcript

NEAL CONAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Every politician knows that a drunk driving charge or a secret lover can come back to haunt come campaign time, but so can an unfortunate turn of phrase in an interview decades-old, a now-outdated policy position, a master's thesis or even, as Mitt Romney learned this past weekend, high school pranks that may have gone too far.

There is a small industry devoted to the discovery of everything a politician ever said or wrote, every vote cast, meeting attended, every public action and some they might have believed private. Opposition researchers are the hired guns that visit county courthouses and spend countless hours scanning C-SPAN's political archives for mistakes or misstatements that can be turned into political ammunition or maybe even a bombshell.

How opposition research works and what's off-limits, if you've seen an example that's worked or not, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, another bad day on Wall Street as the political crisis deepens in Greece. But first, opposition research. We begin with political junkie Ken Rudin, who joins us here in Studio 3A. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hi Neal, I have a trivia question. Oh no...

CONAN: No, no, that's Wednesday.

RUDIN: Sorry.

CONAN: Though we're not sure how this story made it to the headlines, whether this was oppo-research or not, Mitt Romney learned this past week that his 1960s past is not too past.

RUDIN: Well, it's hard to imagine that anything is just coincidental. The fact is you can go through a lot of political history and see unexpected facts coming out right before an election or right before a convention or right before a primary is obviously part of opposition research. The fact that we learned right before the 2000 election that George W. Bush was arrested years prior for drunk driving, we didn't knew that - we didn't know that until a week or two before the 2000 election.

Did it affect some votes? It might have. Did it upset some evangelicals? It might have. But there's no question that that was part of the opposition research that we're known to - that we've known to be accustomed to. You know, we've seen Tim Russert do that - the late Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" do that for years.

He would have a candidate up there and put up a quote that he or she may have said 20 years ago that would come back to embarrass them, but it's obviously more detailed than that.

CONAN: And it's obviously changed in the Internet age, where everything is archived.

RUDIN: Right, and there's also a question about whether the difference between dirty politics and opposition research. Obviously, if somebody is come up, as one campaign did in 2000, and say that John McCain fathered an illegitimate black child out of wedlock, that's just dirty politics; it never happened.

CONAN: And untrue.

RUDIN: And untrue, that's the point. When Ed Muskie's wife was - somebody came forward in 1972 and said Ed Muskie's wife was talked - was heard denigrating French Canadians, calling them Canucks, that led to the famous alleged (unintelligible) crying incident in New Hampshire, that was a dirty trick. That was not true.

But the Bush drunk driving, the Herman Cain, you know, the sexual inappropriate conduct of Herman Cain, the Joe Biden with Neil Kinnock, the...

CONAN: Stealing his words.

RUDIN: Stealing his words, I mean, that came clearly from another campaign and often leaked to the media.

CONAN: And even a procedural vote in the U.S. Senate can come back to haunt if you describe it as, you know, I was against it before I was for it.

RUDIN: Well, that's exactly true, and it's not just - I mean, to catch George Allen at a rally with a video camera and calling people macaca, that's not opposition research. I mean that's just - you have to be - you have to know that everything...

CONAN: You have to put that guy there to catch the moment.

RUDIN: Well, yeah, but that's - I mean, everything is up for grabs, and everything you say is up for grabs, as it should. But again a vote, a quote decades ago, as you say, will come back to haunt you.

CONAN: Well, joining us here in Studio 3A is Jeff Berkowitz, founder of Berkowitz Public Affairs, a communications and research firm here in Washington. He served as research director for the Republican National Committee in 2009 and 2010. Thanks very much for coming in.

JEFF BERKOWITZ: Thanks for having me, Neal.

CONAN: And how do you describe what you do for your clients?

BERKOWITZ: You know, we do two things. One is we help them identify their own vulnerabilities as they're considering whether to run, hopefully while they're considering. Some of them sort of jump in and then learn, but hopefully ahead of time so they understand what are their past positions, what have they said, what's on the record, you know, even things that folks, particularly first-time candidates, may not think is a vulnerability.

Maybe, you know, if you're a businessman, you know, you're used to dealing with the courts and dealing with lawsuits that are frivolous, but once it enters a political, you know, lens, it can definitely be very different. And then we also help them to understand, you know, how to contrast their record with their opponent's and what their opponent's record is and whether their opponent and how they're trying to, you know, frame themselves in the race is accurate to their record.

CONAN: And how do you go about doing that?

BERKOWITZ: Well, as you can tell from the fact that I'm wearing very thick glasses, you spend a lot of time in dark rooms in courthouses and clerks' offices, you know, digging through different archives, news articles, public records, university libraries and trying to find, you know, those little needles hidden in the haystack that try and - that make a pattern that fit your narrative.

CONAN: Would private detectives be a reasonable comparison?

BERKOWITZ: Yeah, I mean, you know, I think private detectives generally go a little bit more intensely than we do. We tend to stick with public records. You know, once you start digging through trash and following people, it, you know, it gets a little bit more intense than most campaigns would like to go. And, you know, you have to think about - as you're doing this, you know, candidates and campaigns have to think about how their actions in getting this information reflects on their own, you know, interests and how they're trying to describe themselves.

CONAN: And has there come a time where you say oh, boy, I'm not sure I want to tell my client about this?

BERKOWITZ: There's never been a time when I've not wanted to tell my client about something, but I have definitely made clear to, you know, to my clients - and also when I, you know, do training, training for, you know, college students or for the RNC or other campaign schools to - you know, if you're talking to an opposition researcher, and they happen to mention that if the trash is on the curb, it's public property, and you go through it, you know, you might want to think twice about whether that's the guy you want to hire to help your campaign.

CONAN: Ben Jones is a partner at New Partners, a communications and research firm. He served as lead research strategist for the Obama campaign and the DNC during the 2008 election cycle. He joins us by phone from his office in Seattle. Nice to have you with us today.

BEN JONES: Hey, how are you?

CONAN: And was Jeff Berkowitz's description of the job reasonable from your point of view?

JONES: Absolutely. I like to think that we're part political strategist, part investigator and also part archivist. I think Jeff and I are like traffic cops sitting in the middle of the intersection, trying to help our campaigns go in the direction they need to go while also not getting run over by an opposing campaign.

CONAN: Now, how much input do you - are you just information gatherers, and you tell the campaign this is what we've found? Or do you also say: And therefore I think it's probably a real good idea not to run this time around, Mr. Senator?

JONES: Well, I think it depends on the process, when someone is asking for information. And people do come to us and say, well, we - I'd like my record to checked out before I make a leap into office here.

But I think the way that research has changed in the last 15 years is that we - it used to be a game of providing, you know, 30 bound documents, 30 books of bound materials to a campaign with some analysis. And today I think we have to, because of the fast-paced nature of the news cycle, we have to form more thematic direction and more narrative so when we hand it off to the campaign we've already in some ways concluded from our own viewpoint what the information could say.

CONAN: What do you mean? Could you elaborate on that just a little bit?

JONES: Yeah, I think, you know, we - because we've become experts on, you know, different pieces of information, a candidate's travel records, a candidate's voting history, the type of money a campaign takes, we can piece those things together and say, well, this person is wasting taxpayer dollars, and here's the five proof points to do it.

So I think - and sometimes we're also given message frames to package information behind. So someone will say: Hey, I think this race really might break on the following thematics or set of issues. And, you know, as you're developing your research, can you keep an eye out for that?

CONAN: And Ken Rudin, is it fair to say that most campaigns break down onto those kinds of policy differences as opposition - John Edwards, example?

RUDIN: Well, I'm actually a little surprised listening to this conversation because everybody sounds very high-handed, well, you know, very above-board and very nice about this. But we all know that when we're talking about opposition research, we're talking about affairs and liaisons and drug use and all those things that people in the past.

So, you know, Jeff may say that we're not going through garbage, but we are, we are by definition going through trash. How do we know about the John Edwards, the ladies and the Bob Packwood affairs and the Herman Cain things if it weren't going through that kind of stuff and trying to get those people to come forward?

We don't know, as you said, Neal, in the beginning, we don't know if the Mitt Romney prank, the accusation that he attacked somebody and cut his hair and all that stuff...

CONAN: And that homophobia may have been involved.

RUDIN: Yeah, yeah, but so we don't even know if that's true or not, but it's out there. And we did learn, and we do know that a lot of these people leak this stuff to the media, and the media loves it, love it because it's conflict, and it sells stories, and it sells newspapers.

CONAN: Jeff Berkowitz?

BERKOWITZ: Well, you know, I wish my job was as exciting and interesting, and the research we found was, you know, as exciting as Ken thinks it is. You know, the reality is - and honestly, most of my clients, you know, expect everyone to find, you know, find the affairs, find the hidden love childs. Ninety percent of the time, what you're finding is, you know, they had a bad business deal or, you know, even more so, a lot of it really is about what have they said about policy issues.

How does that compare with their actions? You know, if they're coming into politics from a - you know, if you have a businessman who is a Tea Party guy, and he is entering politics, you know, did his business take subsidies from a local or state or federal government? You know, there's a great example in a Senate race this cycle where you have a Tea Party candidate whose two main sources of income are the federal and state governments. It doesn't make for a very good Tea Party candidate.

CONAN: Ken, quick?

RUDIN: Jeff makes a very good point. We saw a perfect example of that this year during a debate when Newt Gingrich attacked Mitt Romney, saying, well, you have investments in Freddie and Fannie, and Mitt Romney said, well, wait a second, don't - I think if you checked your own records, so do you, Mr. Speaker. And Gingrich was dumbstruck by that. And obviously somebody should've let Gingrich know what he had in his own past.

CONAN: So those kinds of vulnerabilities. But it sounds like 10 percent of your time, your job is pretty interesting.

BERKOWITZ: Hopefully.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JONES: Well, if I may jump in, you know, I think Jeff and I need to form a union, a bipartisan union, and get a PR professional to help us develop some talking points as to what we do out there. I think Ken makes some interesting points.

But my frame of mind on affairs and these types of silver bullets and things, you know, certainly we come across divorce filings that make accusations that are public information, and, you know, we'll turn those over to the campaigns. But I think the thing that drives most of those kinds of stories is just natural human curiosity.

And the higher the office you're running for, the more curious people are and I think the more tolerance they have for information like the story that you're referring to on Edwards or Romney. And the curiosity of people drives those things. And people come forward all the time and talk to campaigns, and they talk to reporters, and they color in between...

CONAN: We're talking about opposition research. Stay with us. We'll be back after a short break. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. Negative campaigning works, we know that from political research, and many of the attacks we hear in election years come from legwork done by opposition researchers, the investigators of political campaigns.

We're pulling back the curtain today to talk about the work they do, how they do it and what, if anything, is off-limits. If you've seen an example of something that's worked or not, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Our guests are political junkie Ken Rudin and two researchers with experience working with campaigns. Jeff Berkowitz served as research director for the Republican National Committee. He's founder of Berkowitz Public, a communications and research firm; and Ben Jones served as lead research strategist with the Obama campaign in the DNC during the 2008 elections, former research for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, he's now a partner at New Partners, a communications and research firm.

And let's see if we can get a caller in on the conversation, and Paula's(ph) on the line. Paula's with us from Tucson.

PAULA: Hi, I'm calling from the increasingly medieval state of Arizona. I just wanted to say that I find it incredibly sad and a sad commentary on our electorate that opposition research works at all. There just seems to be this assumption now that the more dirt you dig up on an individual, the less likely they are to be elected.

And if we as voters said, you know, we're not interested in this stuff, we want to be educated about issues, we want to know what these people are going to do for us as leaders of our country, this crap would stop. It just seems like we're reaching a level of insanity in our process where we're more interested in what's considered entertainment than what's considered important for the good of the country.

And I'm reminded of that old '60s saying, what if they gave a war and nobody came. Well, what if opposition researchers found that nobody cared? And I think it's up to us to say that.

CONAN: Ben Jones, have you ever found that nobody cared?

JONES: No, I haven't. I think our country has a rich history of caring about how people conduct their life and how they conduct their affairs and what type of leader they will become. And, you know, campaigns are about telling stories. And the ones that are factually authentic can win.

And I think also Jeff could agree with this: We develop a lot of positive information for our clients in our campaigns to help them generate their positive narrative. It's at least 50 percent of what we do.

CONAN: Is that right, Jeff?

BERKOWITZ: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, this is about helping candidates explain their record and contrast it with their opponent's record. And so it's not really a sad thing; it's an important part of the campaign debate. Now, I would absolutely agree that the media and the campaign operatives do like to focus in on the more salacious stuff, but I think in voters' minds, you know, they want to - if they care about issues, they want to know where a candidate stands and if that's honest to where they've really been in their record.

You know, if somebody tells you they're going to lower your taxes, and yet they've voted - you know, we had a great attack on John Kerry in 2004. He voted 350 times for higher taxes. And, you know, if he's going to - if you think he's going to lower your taxes, then his record belies that.

And so I think the American people and people who are voting for these folks to represent them in Washington and around the country, they want to know the record, and they also want to know, you know, what - if you've got a candidate who's in office, they want to talk about their record. We help them make sure they do that accurately, and they know what they can say that's supported by the facts.

CONAN: And Ken Rudin, does this have - and Paula, thanks very much for the phone call. Does this have an effect on politicians while they're in office? For example, does it make them conscious of how they're going to look when they come up for re-election?

RUDIN: Well, yes, and they should. I mean, obviously they're - more and more - look, with 24/7 cable TV, with the Internet and all those things that are out there, obviously candidates are more and more cautious than ever. But at the same time, (unintelligible) what Jeff was talking about before, the fact that you're running for president, and your name is Herman Cain, and you have these things in your background, and don't you have an opposition research person working on your behalf to say look, this stuff is going to come out? You need to know how to address this. And when Cain was confronted with these stories, he had five different nonsensical answers that, you know, that didn't mesh, and eventually it drove him from the campaign.

But how do you run for president, how do you run for office with these things in your past and not know how to deal with it?

CONAN: Ben Jones, have you had clients who declined to tell you material that later turned out to be relevant, shall we say?

JONES: Far and few between. You know, yes, I can't remember a specific example right now, but far and few between. We conduct a self-research interview process where we sit down with a candidate, and we ask them about two hours' worth of questions over a couple-day period and try to get answers. And most people are really forthcoming because they understand that their life is under examination, and they need help understanding how to deal with things.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another phone call. Let's go to Nick(ph), and Nick's with us from San Francisco.

NICK: Yes, hi. I wanted to know whether this form (technical difficulty) lends itself disclosure of negative issues by your clients. So for instance, I can't help but look at what's happening with Mr. Romney right now and assume that there's no way that his behavior would not be excusable, when he was teenager, and everybody makes mistakes as a young adult.

And this would be a good way to disclose it, get it out, get it over with and humanize him, which is a challenge that he has faced, to connect with everybody that he's like everybody else and not a million-dollar millionaire.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. Just - we don't know exactly what happened and where this story is going or its origins and whether that was opposition research or not. But it does raise the question, Jeff Berkowitz, is - are high school pranks relevant? Is this off-limits?

BERKOWITZ: You know, I think it's up for the voters to decide that. You know, on this particular story, you know, as we've seen emerge in blogs and other reporting, you know, it seems like the Washington Post did a pretty sloppy job. A lot of the story has been falling apart. Some of the people quoted in the story have been quoted saying very different things about Mitt Romney in other sources.

So we'll see where that goes, but I think in general, you know, nobody would really like to be reminded about - you know, people don't even like to see their high school yearbook photos, and you'll regret that haircut.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Or their DMV photos...

BERKOWITZ: I think, though, at the end of the day, whether it's inbounds or not goes to what does this speak to someone's character and what you expect them to do when you elect them into office.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: I'd like to hear from Jeff and Ben what - how they use the media to help facilitate the research they have come up with because sometimes you come up with salacious stuff that you know the media is just going to bite at, and obviously, you know, to get your message across, the media is the best place to go. I mean, how do you use the media, and are the media so willing to accept this kind of stuff?

JONES: Well, you know, I think the public record can only get you so far in some cases, and then we have to take what we have and say here's something on background. You know, we go to them on background, and we say hey, here's something we're working on. And usually we do that with a communications director of an organization. And we say here's something that kind of seems interesting. Are you interested, you know, in looking into this? And if they are, then we turn over the materials and we work with them on it.

You know, I think as far as the Romney story is concerned, I would have to imagine that someone out there, you know, caught wind of this story in a gossip mill or campaign - people come forward to campaigns every day, every week with information about a candidate, especially on a high-profile race like this. And sometimes those things are worth looking into, to some degree, but the majority of those types of interviews and things happen by a journalist and not an opposition researcher.

CONAN: Does that sound right, Jeff?

BERKOWITZ: Yeah, no, that's true. You know, it goes hand-in-hand. You know, there's a lot of investigative reporters out there, but, you know, the unfortunate, you know, reality is that the media is stretched thinner and thinner. News rooms are getting smaller. Bureaus are disappearing. And it's harder. You know, the New Jersey governor's race is a perfect example.

The two main papers in the state shared a reporter on the race. You know, you have more reporters stretched thin. So the information that we develop can help them be better at their jobs. You know, obviously they need to vet it and make sure that it's accurate, and, you know, that's something that, you know, folks like me and I'm sure Ben, you know, make sure that we aren't giving inaccurate information to reporters. And, you know, we can help them do their jobs and to tell the stories better.

CONAN: Have you ever had a reporter come back and say wait a minute, you burned me on this story, I'm going to name names now?

BERKOWITZ: I have fortunately never been in that situation.

JONES: I have had situations where reporters questioned something that we do, you know, and then we have to provide additional details and work with them. But I don't think that it's - I've ever been burned by one.

CONAN: Let's go next to Larry(ph), Larry with us from Birmingham.

LARRY: Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Larry, go ahead, please.

LARRY: I've managed campaigns, state, local, federal level, for more than 30 years. And it seems to me that a new development that is making the level of vitriol and opposition research increase is the new superPACs who are willing to pay - put almost any complaint or accusation out in ads. And I think it's sort of a reflection of what I think Lord Chesterfield said of the harlot's prerogative of power without responsibility, because in a campaign you always - as some of these gentlemen have said, you have to look at what comes next if you're the person who's running for office. These people don't care, and they will run almost any of the accusation without a shred of evidence and, of course, because the candidates are public persons they have no problems with legal repercussions. And I just wonder what these gentlemen think of that.

CONAN: Ben Jones, does the advent of the superPACs, though we've seen similar kinds of organizations in the past - you think about Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, for example - but it's one thing for a candidate to run a negative ad saying I'm Neal Conan, and I approve this message. It's another to say these are friends for democracy, and, you know, Mr. Smith has sexual relations with sheep.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JONES: I think there's no doubt that Larry is onto something. I've seen an increase of superPACs being able to play looser with the facts. It's happened in the Virginia Senate race just this cycle, where ads had been demonstrated to be false, but they stay on because there's no real repercussion to the campaign. You know, superPACs have grown enormously. There were 84 groups in 2010, and there are 535 registered superPACs today. So the story, I think, is unfolding on how it will affect our elections. And I think it's - I think we'll see a lot after this year.

CONAN: And, Ken, is there any agency other than the so-called fact-checkers in the newspapers or on websites that can say this is true, this isn't?

RUDIN: Not really, although they are more active than they ever had before, but we did see the event earlier when MSNBC and The Washington Post picked up a thing from a blog saying that Mitt Romney was echoing some things that the Klan had said, and ultimately, that was incorrect, and both MSNBC and The Washington Post had to apologize. So there's such an eagerness to get things from the blogs out there, but sometimes they're just incorrect.

CONAN: Larry, thanks very much for the call.

LARRY: Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking about opposition research today with two men who practice the art - Jeff Berkowitz, founder of Berkowitz Public Affairs, which is a communications and research firm, former research director for the Republican National Committee; and Ben Jones, partner at New Partners, served as lead research strategist with the Obama campaign and the DNC during the 2008 election cycle. We'd like to invite all of you with dirt on Ken Rudin to give us a call...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: ...800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Ken?

RUDIN: Just one word on my defense: The sheep and I were just friends.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Sheep was 18. Let's see - we go next to Troy. Troy with us from Iowa City.

TROY: Yes. I was wondering how the political people will spin when they find out or if they find out if Barack Obama sold drugs or they had - he sold - he gave some drugs to a person who was arrested and charged with drug possession.

CONAN: I think they would refer that to the police.

TROY: Well, I wonder what they would - the political people would do if they found out he sold drugs.

CONAN: I think they would have a field day if it was accurate, but so far as we know, that's inaccurate. But it does raise a question, and that is, are families off limits, Ben Jones?

JONES: I think they are. I think it depends - it does - well, I'll make an asterisk on that. If a family member is somehow tied into a business relationship that they profit from because someone's in office, potentially that's fair game. But I think cheap shots at family - and I've seen it happen. I've seen research come back. And I personally believe on a personal level that family is off.

CONAN: Would you agree, Jeff?

BERKOWITZ: As a general proposition, absolutely. You know, they aren't running for office. And I think the most important thing with any research, whether it's about the candidate or someone related to them, you know, is you really have to think about how does this really go back to the central narrative and the discussion, because this is about, you know, deciding whether someone should hold an office or not. And I think when you - before you go out and destroy anyone's life or character, you have to be very careful with that.

You know, you saw the Obama campaign last week has decided to go after individual donors to the Romney superPAC and, you know, in a really bullying way that I think is offensive and probably beyond the, you know, the pale, and you now have some of their families being threatened with death threats and things like that. You have to be very careful when, you know, you can get very, very gleeful and going, you know, posting things on your website about an opponent in the campaign. You always have to be careful about what the implications are going to be.

CONAN: Are donors fair game, Ben Jones?

JONES: Sure. I - well, I think it depends on what you're saying. If you're asking if a donor's beliefs or if a donor is truly conservative or liberal, then certainly it could make a guilt by association argument. I think who funds campaigns, PACs, individuals are an important bellwether as to how people - who people associate with.

CONAN: Here's an email question from Brian in Dallas: Have there been instances of opposition researchers acting as double agents by leaking their client's info to the other side? Jeff Berkowitz, I'm sure you were never...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: ...tainted by this in the least.

BERKOWITZ: I've never done that. I mean, I certainly know of, you know, researchers that have, you know, gone rouge and gotten upset about their treatment by a campaign and done things they weren't supposed to. I have - I try to conduct myself much more professionally than that.

CONAN: Ben Jones, anybody going rouge?

JONES: No. I don't know of an instance like that. I mean, we have sent information to other Republicans in another primary, trying to help affect the primary a little bit here and there but...

CONAN: Oh, so you're working for a Democratic candidate, and you leak information about one Republican candidate to the other Republican candidate.

JONES: Yeah, sure. And Republicans do it to us. So, you know, I - but, no, I don't know what the point of being a double agent would be, to giving my opponent information about myself.

CONAN: Ken Rudin, is - this is a - people may not like this, but it is a fact of life, and for one side to not avail themselves of such services would be unilateral disarmament, no?

RUDIN: I agree completely, and that addresses what Paula, one of the first callers today, Paula, who said that she just - it's just despicable and makes her very unhappy about the state of affairs in politics. But if they - we did not know about John Edwards and the illegitimate child and all those things, what if John Edwards had won the primaries? What if he was named to the Obama ticket? What if he was named attorney general in an Obama administration? And then, it comes out and it's too late, it could destroy the entire party, bring down all the candidates, and we probably would have said I wish we knew. I wish we had that opposition research in advanced.

CONAN: Well, that was the National Enquirer and I guess - do you pay for information, Jeff Berkowitz?

BERKOWITZ: Yeah. I mean, it's like any other service. You know, I mean, sometimes, you know, you have to go pay the archives for information. If someone has...

CONAN: But would you pay a source, an individual?

BERKOWITZ: I mean, I would pay someone who has verifiable information, yeah, absolutely.

CONAN: Jeff Berkowitz, thanks very much for your time today. Jeff Berkowitz, founder of Berkowitz Public Affairs. Our thanks as well to Ben Jones, partner at New Partners. He joined us from his office in Seattle. Jeff Berkowitz was here in Studio 3A, along with our political junkie, Ken Rudin, who will return on Wednesday, unless that information pans out. Ken, as always, thanks very much for your time.

RUDIN: A lot of it is not true.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Coming up on the Opinion Page, more tough choices ahead for Greece and the European Union. Political paralysis in Athens drags on Wall Street. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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