The World's First Political Consulting Firm

Friday, October 12, 2012


Image From American Medical Association Campaign Against Truman's National Health Insurance Plan (Image Courtesy California State Archives)

In the 1930's, married couple Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter founded Campaigns, Inc., the world's first political consulting firm. In the ensuing 30 years, Campaigns Inc. pioneered tactics like the out-of-context quote, relentless pamphleteering, and what we now call opposition research, all techniques that are part of the modern campaign playbook. Bob talks to Jill Lepore, New Yorker contributor and author of The Story of America: Essays on Origins about Whitaker and Baxter's political legacy.


Jill Lepore

Hosted by:

Bob Garfield

Comments [6]

Bobbi Jo Hart from Montreal

Interestingly enough, I discovered the story about Campaigns Inc. several years ago when I began research on a feature documentary film on this subject, and would enjoy hearing from people who can help add more context to my film now under way. By the way, just a fact correction on the synopsis above - Whitaker and Baxter were not married when they founded Campaigns Inc. in the 1930s. Whitaker was married to someone else and Baxter was a widow at the time. Whitaker left his wife shortly after Campaigns Inc. was created, then married Baxter.

Nov. 28 2012 08:57 AM
Mark Richard from Columbus OH

To Chris, I'm not sure what you are asking, but my point is that political consultants didn't invent the methods complained about by journalists regarding campaign advertising. Journalists did - along with working elective politicians.

That's the real story beneath all the hyseria about 'Citizens United' and 'campaign spending' ginned up by establishment journalists. It isn't falsehoods and distortions and sleaze to which establishment journalists object. It's falsehoods and distortions and sleaze 'outside' groups (revealing phrase). Candidates, especially incumbents, also resent 'outside' groups getting involved in the debate. The amounts of money spent on ads are chump change compared to incumbent-candidate pork - and on beer ads, to cite an instructive comparison. I've read NPR describe as 'eye-popping' amounts raised by presidential candidates that turn out, on closer examination, to be about the size of Joey Votto's contract with the Cincinnati Reds.

If I were a member of the establishment media, I'd work on cleaning up my own act re misleading quotes, etc. (i.e., Candy Crowley's misleading intervention on behalf of President Obama on Tuesday night) before getting into high dudgeon over campaign ads.

Oct. 18 2012 12:54 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Jon Meecham, asked about Jefferson after Tuesday's debate by Charlie Rose,"The first in a contested race and he had Super PACs!" Plus a paid "journalist" hired to publish slanders against Adams. So what's your point, Mr. Richards?

Meanwhile, the debate made me think back on the Cuban Missile Crisis which had me so worried that, for the first and only time I watched t.v. wrestling to distract myself and with the Queen of Wrestlemania running to be my next Senator, I could almost hear Vince intoning "Let's get ready to rumble!" It was distracting as are the ad campaigns and it didn't start with these folks.

Oct. 17 2012 03:56 PM
Mark Richard from Columbus OH

Hmm, was it a couple of political consultants in California who 'pioneered' the use of 'out-of-context quotes, relentless pamphleteering, and what we would now call opposition research'? In the 1930's? Really? Seems to me those 'tactics' were well-established among government propagandists and partisan newspapers - the political activist class - by that point. Oh, but wait, it's different if 'we' do it!

That's why the use of the term 'outside' groups by journalists implicitly deploring campaign ads is unintentionally revealing - these journalists don't themselves realize that what they hate is people outside the chattering-class echo chamber trying to horn in and influence the debate. More than anything else, that is why journalists remain obsessed by the 'Willie Horton' ad after, what, 24 years? Somebody else decided Horton was 'news', without the press having 'vetted' it. Not only did Dukakis end up looking foolish, but a lazy, biased Washington press also did, for not having explored the issue itself. One of the most effective weapons that right-wing critics have used to lower the credibility of the mainstream press is the charge that what the press doesn't cover is as revealing as what it does decide is 'news'.

Public radio is in full anti-Republican campaign mode right now. I wonder what the 'cash value' of the 'out-of-context quotes, relentless pamphleteering, and opposition research' done by its reporters amounts to when translated into political ads. OTM and NPR functionaries will no doubt counter crossly that they never, from the bottom of their hearts, let their own political leanings be betrayed in framing, vocabulary, and choice of 'news'. Clue for these nice people: you aren't that good at it.

Oct. 16 2012 12:53 PM

Great story, one of your best ever.

Oct. 15 2012 02:47 AM
Celia Wexler from Alexandria, VA

Thanks so much for your great interview with Jill Lepore. i was blown away by her New Yorker piece. I'm a former journalist, now a public interest lobbyist, and author of a new book, "Out of the News: Former Journalists Discuss a Profession in Crisis." This year, more than in previous years, I've felt that Capitol Hill has become a fact-free environment. I never realized that the distortion of information for political gain had such a long and sorry history.

Oct. 12 2012 08:59 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.