Saturday, November 18, 2006


Bird-Dogging Basics

Bird-Dogging Basics by Patrick Carkin

I bird-dogged all four of the major presidential candidates during the
2000 primary in New Hampshire, a state where the level of access to such
politicians is unbelievably high. With this experience in mind, I'd like
to focus on a few basic approaches that will make bird-dogging a candidate

The first step to bird-dogging is finding out where a politician is going
to be. The more secure a candidate is, the less available they will be to
the general public. Thus, in some cases, a little detective work will be

Here are some basic tips to address this problem:

1. Subscribe to a candidate's email list. Sometimes a politician will just
announce where he/she is going to be.

2. Subscribe to state and party email lists. Both groups frequently
promote their favorite candidates.

3. Get in with the local party -- get on their snail mail list and meet
some of their leaders. You'll pick up a lot of info this way.

4. Find someone who's been active with the party for a long time who will
be willing to pass on information to you. In some cases these individuals
would love to bird-dog a candidate but can't because of appearances -- but
they CAN pass info onto you so that you can do the "dirty work."

5. Find friendly members of the media to get info from. Some reporters
really would like progressive issues to be part of the political debate.

6. Check other media sources such as newspapers and newspaper web sites.
In some circumstances, the papers will have calendars announcing when
political candidates will appear. This is far less likely in a
non-election cycle year.

Besides finding out where the candidate is going to be, you also have to
prep for the challenge. Whatever your interest is, don't assume that you
can nail a politician with something you think up at the last minute. Come
up with your best questions/challenges and present them to at least one
person who should play the devil's advocate. You'll quickly discover that
many questions that you once thought were great can be quickly sidetracked
or outright dismissed by a savvy politician.

The actual logistics of attending a political event and bird-dogging a
politician before, during or afterwards, takes a little bit of thought.
However, once you get the hang of it it quickly becomes easy.

1. It's best to show up at an event early, particularly if the politician
is popular, leading in the polls, or if it’s late in the primary season.
You can't challenge them if you're not in their line of sight.

2. If there's a question and answer period your pre-planning will quickly
become useful. A general rule is that most people don't raise their hands
immediately. They need time to get their courage up or just become
involved in the situation. Thus, as a bird-dogger, it's imperative that
you express your interest in asking a question as quickly as you can. If
you're not called on first you'll likely be called on second or third. If
you wait ten minutes half the room will have their hands raised and you'll
never get heard.

3. Take notes. Since bird-dogging can be a little nerve wracking it might
be necessary to do these things in teams. One person challenges the
politician, the other writes the response down. Remember, it's not only
important that you get them on camera at that moment, it's also important
that you be able to accurately quote them later on so that others can pick
up where you ended. This is an integral part of effective bird-dogging
politicians - make 'em responsible for their words and actions.

Work in teams of two or more people and disperse. Since bird-dogging can
make many people nervous, it’s best to go in teams of two or more people.
One person asks the question while another writes down the response.
Dispersing at the event will possibly allow everyone in the group to ask a
question. Be prepared with follow-up questions in case someone asks the
question you intended to use.

Bird-dogging isn't just about asking questions. It can also take other
forms such as street theater, pranks, or even a simple protest. The
important aspect is: Does it get a response from the politician or his/her
staff? If it does, that's half the battle. The idea is to be creative.
Maybe play good cop/bad cop, maybe agree with the candidate (rather,
appear to agree) on a controversial issue in order to draw out a response
that will be damming later on for the politician. Think creatively -- but
do something that gets a response. Responses mean you can use the
information later on and it means that the media will pay attention. It
all results in helping create real change in our electoral politics, from
the people running for office to the media reporting the stories to the
cynical public which thinks none of it matters.

Bird-doggers also need to remember that anger does not pay. When you're
going after a politician, especially one you don't like, you have to try
to be at least cordial. It's part of the game. Butter 'em up a bit.
Compliment them for something -- anything that you can think of that you
might agree with them on. Hardly anyone is 100 percent opposite of where
you stand politically. If it becomes necessary, step up the tone a bit,
but only enough to become effective. Perhaps in some cases anger will get
the response you want from a politcian or their staff. You should not do
civil disobedience and outright loud protests unless you've reached a
point of last resort with a particular politician. At that point the best
you'll likely get is a media report on your actions, but real interactions
with the candidate will be greatly reduced if not impossible.

Last but not least, pass your experiences on to others by submitting a
report to! Your work won't be lost, it will become part of
a long term record that other activists will then be able to use to more
effectively challenge a given politician.

Good luck.

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posted by u2r2h at 1:10 PM


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