Magazine article Information Today

Nexis Makes Name in Opposition Research

Magazine article Information Today

Nexis Makes Name in Opposition Research

Article excerpt

Wouldn't you like to be a Nexis sales rep these days? What a free ride. You just sit back and let the country's top politicians and news media do your work for you. Nexis echoed throughout the election season in the wake of the campaign's hottest buzzwords, opposition research. Opposition research was credited with undermining a sitting president, driving a hard-nosed tycoon out of the race, and pulling the Democrats out of a decade-long political morass. At the very least, it provided Nexis with free publicity far beyond the wildest dreams of Mead Data Central's marketing and public relations people.

Every time you turned around you heard about opposition research and the armory of political time bombs you could quickly extract from online databases, particularly Nexis. CNN, the National Journal, US News & World Report, National Public Radio, and the MacNiel/Lehrer NewsHour all ran stories on the career-wrenching, candidate-undermining, attack-ad-countering technique, citing Nexis as its ultimate weapon.


But these stories are small change compared to the Big Enchilada of accidental Nexis publicity. You remember it well--October 19--the final presidential debate and a watershed in the history of online information.

In his devastating attack on the President's appeasement of Iraq, Perot told 88 MILLION people that they could check the facts for themselves on Nexis. Which is exactly what they did; the following day Nexis set a record for number of searches.

What a priceless bonanza for Nexis. (This is a company, after all, that thinks a full page ad in Information Today is big-time advertising.) Talk about unsolicited celebrity endorsements! A plug from Ross Perot--Mr. Snoop himself--ON NATIONAL TELEVISION! When was the last time you heard about an online service during prime time? It was probably an ad for Prodigy. (Actually, the two cases are not comparable: first of all, Prodigy had to pay for its advertising. Next, when you go online to Nexis you can actually get something worthwhile.)

Nexis and opposition research transformed online information from mild-mannered background filler into a sort of political smart bomb that can target a candidate's blind side with ruthless precision. Perot stuck it to Bush on Iraq. When the President launched his assault on Clinton's patriotism, Clinton deftly counterpunched with his McCarthyism/Prescott Bush reply. Bush, it seems, has a long-running problem with Nexis: "Bush once remarked to an aide that the Nexis data-retrieval system was one of the most nettlesome inventions of his career--reminding him of all those things he'd said over the years." (Washington Post, 1/7/90.)


1992 is actually pay-back time for the Democrats, who lost the information arms race in 1988 and 1984. The Republicans, typically better organized, had their opposition research war machine mobilized for the 1984 and 1988 campaigns. The GOP owes its lead to Michael Bayer, who is credited with devising the Republican opposition research program. (Bayer's opposition research efforts are outlined in an article in the National Journal of October 24, 1992.) As befits the Dr. Strangelove of opposition research, Bayer's career is a bit shadowy. Through the 1980s Bayer worked on opposition research and other campaign projects, meanwhile holding appointive posts in Republican administrations. …

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