Image courtesy NorthDecoder.com
Flip-camera-carrying trackers are seen by some as shadowy and slimy, but why? All they do is collect video of candidates saying stuff like, "I am pro-life, and I'll answer the next question. I don't believe in the exceptions of rape and incest."
Some video captured by trackers is taken out of context, but so is the work of traditional journalists. In fact, today's trackers are sort of filling a gap that's been left by the depletion of reporters, who used to spend a lot more time on the campaign trail with state candidates, gathering information.
So I'm pro-tracker. I prefer journalists, but I'll take trackers if I have to.
Unless trackers lie and misrepresent themselves, and make all innocent trackers look bad. And in the process deceive public figures and degrade politics.
That's allegedly what conservative tracker Josh Hursa did on a recent field trip to North Dakota.
Hursa, who's gotten more media attention than a typical tracker might want, was the guy with a camera glued to Rep. Sal Pace, whom Hursa tracked as part of his job for the National Republican Congressional Committee earlier this year.
Then he joined up with conservative blogger/tracker Kelly Maher's RevealingPolitics, where he was featured on the website as a contributor.
Until yesterday. Now his name has been removed.
That happened after I told Maher about a blog post about Hursa in NorthDecoder.com, a progressive North Dakota blog.
The post, written by Chad Nodland, recounted what Hursa allegedly did in North Dakota:
A young man showed up at a parade in Linton, North Dakota (pop. 1,020), on Thursday of last week (June 21st) and approached a campaign staffer for Heidi Heitkamp. Linton is a small town about 70 minutes south and east of Bismarck. At some point in the conversation the young man indicated he was unemployed, he said he was from Billings, Montana, and was staying with his brother in Bismarck for the summer. He said things complimentary to Sen. John Tester (D-Montana), and said things complimentary of Heidi Heitkamp. He was given a volunteer card by the staffer.
The next day -- Friday, June 22nd -- the same young man showed up at the Heitkamp campaign headquarters in Mandan, North Dakota, and asked if anyone was making volunteer calls. He apparently wanted to volunteer to make calls. No calls were being made that day, so he left. On Saturday, June 23rd, the same young man showed up at the parade in Beulah, North Dakota, (pop. 2,900). Beulah is about 80 or 90 minutes north and west of Bismarck. The young man asked to get a volunteer t-shirt and was given one. He put it on. He was asked whether he would sign up to volunteer for the campaign and declined. At about that point, this young man pulled a "flip-cam" out of his pocket, turned it on, and he got all up in Heidi Heitkamp's grill, asking her questions. I don't know what the questions were, but -- based upon what I've been told -- they were pretty much the sorts of typical right-wing garbage you'd expect to get from a script prepared for a fake attack "journalist" like Shawn Hannity or Bill O'Reilly. I'm sure you'll be watching the video some time soon.
He was asked to identify himself and identified himself only as "Josh" and said something about "Revealing Politics." He continued his bullying, antagonistic tactics, trying to elicit a response, following Heitkamp through most or all of the parade route. He wore a "Heidi" shirt the whole time he harassed her.
Told of this blog post, Maher initially had no comment on the specifics, because she hadn't seen it, but she couldn't say enough bad things about trackers who "affirmatively" misrepresent themselves.
"Our job is to tell the story, not be the story," she told me. "I want to tell the story. I will never instruct or suggest that anyone misrepresent themselves affirmatively. That's never acceptable from my perspective."
By "affirmatively," Maher means actively misrepresenting yourself (e.g., telling a public figure that you're something you're not), as opposed to simply observing (videotaping a progressive candidate even if you oppose that candidate) or asking questions.
Progressives and conservatives and anyone else would agree with Maher, right?
I sent Maher the NorthDecoder blog post, and asked what she thought of it, and what she'd do about Hursa, assuming the allegation was true. She replied:
Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I am very concerned to see this post.
Due to the nature of this piece what I can say is two-fold:
1) This author clearly is playing fast and loose with "facts" asserted. He clearly confuses my previous project and an entirely different one. He makes conjecture about funding and structure without proper evidence or clarity. Based on what I read here about myself, it brings all assertions elsewhere about others in to question. (Editor's note: This is in response to a portion of Nodland's blog post about Maher's current and previous work.)
2) Due to our organizational policies I cannot comment on personnel issues.
I couldn't find contact information for Hursa, but if he responds to this blog post, I'll include his comments immediately.
The upshot of this strange story is that, it seems, there's a code of ethics emerging among the tracker class, possibly among both progressives and conservatives, just like a journalistic code of ethics evolved within journalism as it matured.
The baseline ethical standard, as Maher says, is to refrain from affirmatively misrepresenting yourself, if you're a tracker out there at events. We don't know what disciplanary action Maher took, if any, in Hursa's case, but Hursa's name is gone from her website.
Maybe someday the American Society of Professional Trackers, which will undoubtedly be formed by this growth industry by the year 2015, will issue a detailed ethics code, but the baseline standard is a good start.