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Sunday, January 29, 2023
HomeWorldOpinion - Tyson Brody: Why George Santos' lies weren't exposed sooner by...

Opinion – Tyson Brody: Why George Santos’ lies weren’t exposed sooner by Democrats

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One of the worst things that can happen to a politician is someone writing about him in the newspaper. More recent example: on Monday (19) the New York Times reported that congressman-elect George Santos appeared to have lied about huge chunks of his resume.

Santos, who is due to be sworn in in January to represent a New York borough that includes parts of Long Island and Queens, appears to have lied about his education, employment history and operation of an animal rescue charity. He tweeted about being a landlord, but he doesn’t appear to own real estate in New York or Nassau County, according to NYT searches of property records and financial statements. Santos even claimed that four of his employees died in the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, but NYT journalists were unable to find any public connection between any of the victims of the massacre and the companies informed. His lawyer said journalists “are trying to smear him with these defamatory allegations.”

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This apparent lying pattern raises serious questions about how he suddenly acquired enough money to fund his own political campaign.

But the even bigger question is this: how do you explain that no one has come up with any of this before? Did no one do opposition research on this guy? Didn’t journalists investigate him before the election? What happened here?

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It will likely be impossible to definitively determine. But my answer is that, if you look closely, Democrats have indeed done the broad strokes of this poll — they just haven’t done enough for the full picture to show. In the end, the most important report about the elected deputy went unnoticed by many people: that he may be a serial fabulist. Instead, Democrats highlighted a different story about Santos, for reasons that make a lot of sense.

I’m going to put my cards on the table: I was not involved in this election or doing political work at any level in New York this past election cycle. But I have over 12 years of experience doing opposition polls for Democrats. So I think I’m qualified to propose an answer.

Let’s examine the process of opposition research. A junior researcher is tasked with writing a “book”: a comprehensive report presenting a wide range of oppositional research attacks on a given adversary. In the next step, a senior researcher reviews and edits the book. As the Democratic candidate was not chosen until August 23, in a district that the Democrats won without difficulty in 2020, it is likely that this process was started late and carried out in a hurry.

Think of that non-profit animal rescue organization that wouldn’t have registered as a charity. How did George Santos do this and nobody noticed? That didn’t quite happen. We have a copy of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s (DCCC) investigative book on Santos, chiselled for public consumption and posted online in August. And there it is: the Santos NGO appears in a US Revenue database as not having been located.

Also documented are the evictions in the 2010s and the cases of unreported personal finances that appear in the NYT report. They’re in small sections interspersed throughout an almost 90-page document, but they’re there. Perhaps, given more time, the researchers could have done more to confirm the NGO’s lack of public records, or they could have contacted the owners of the properties rented by Santos.

What about Santos apparently lying about his employers and education? The NYT reported that Baruch College was unable to confirm that Santos graduated in the year he claimed, and companies he named on his resume, such as Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, could find no record that he was employed by them. Oppositional research is often the obscure art of searching databases and then copying and pasting information so that the researcher can compose material for reporters.

You’d be shocked to find out how much a 20-year-old with enough time and guidance can find out about a person. But opposition researchers are not private investigators, and it’s helpful to think about your sources. While carrying out his work, a researcher may notice that there is not a single piece of evidence that supports a candidate’s background, other than what he himself says.

So how do you verify the authenticity of what he says? There are sources such as school and college yearbooks and services used by employers to check information about job applicants’ education. Or you can always try asking politely. Employers and universities are not obligated to share this information with anyone who seeks them out, including anyone doing political research (although, it’s worth noting, the chances of you getting an answer if you ask are better than you maybe imagine). Another solution is to earnestly ask newspaper reporters to ask these questions and hope that their paper’s reputation will compel people to respond.

What happened to George Santos is that reporters asked questions, while employers and schools spoke to the New York Times. We don’t know if anyone else has tried it before to this point. This story demonstrates without a doubt why pollsters—and journalists—must check even the most minor candidate statements.

Let’s go back to the research process: when the book is ready, members of the communications team, employees and campaign consultants are informed of the best excerpts that researchers could find to take to reporters and for propaganda purposes. One result of these briefings can be seen in a DCCC release that characterized George Santos as a “suspicious Wall Street figure.” Specifically, the release highlights the nonprofit’s absence from the IRS database and its previously unreported personal finances. It’s not the exact report, but months ago a Democratic agent had already described Santos as “unreliable”.

So what happened? Probably the DCCC research department moved on to the next project. This year, as every other year, Democrats competed for hundreds of seats in the House. The junior staff member may have been reassigned to a position in a technically distinct division and may have been legally unable to communicate with former colleagues. This is how some investigations end up never getting past the stage of being PDF files.

But I dare suggest that the rest of the prepared Democratic poll is pretty convincing. Santos said he was at Ellipse Park at the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, said on video captured by trackers that he helped pay attorney fees for participants in the Capitol storming, and said he favors a nationwide ban on abortion. It’s heavy stuff. All of this adds up to the usual, politically toxic Republican agenda of lowering taxes on the rich and promoting some kind of partial privatization of Social Security.

We are still waiting for the final data, but it is likely that in this district of New York, the Republicans were the winners in the race for governor and senator. And that’s despite Senator Chuck Schumer spending $41 million while his opponent shelled out $545,000 statewide. It is possible that a stronger attack on Santos, identifying him as a possible hoaxer, would have allowed his Democratic opponent to escape such gravity.

Could Santos’ adversary and Democratic agents have investigated this story further and discovered much more? I can imagine why it didn’t: We’re talking about what sounds like a glossy resume, evictions, and open legal liabilities. This sort of thing is not always shocking in politics, taken in isolation. What is highly unusual in the case of George Santos is the extent of his apparently false statements.

The message the Democrats chose instead rubbed shoulders in New York, but it has sent the party into a historically strong midterm cycle nationally. When the one thing you can’t have more of in a campaign is time, what are you going to spend your time talking about?

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