Many have speculated about the possible role of an opposing campaign in revelations about GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain's sexual harassment settlements while head of the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s. Former Atlantic senior editor Josh Green's June 2004 feature story on the rise of opposition research, "Playing Dirty," dug into the history of the practice:
Attempting to define a political opponent as something less than presidential is a hallowed American tradition. Two centuries ago, in attacks that echo in Republican characterizations of John Kerry, Federalist opponents assailed Thomas Jefferson with what amounted to the charge that he--a free-thinking deist who sympathized with the French Revolution--was in fact a godless Francophile bent on destroying the institution of marriage. Andrew Jackson's marriage to a woman he wrongly believed to be divorced, Grover Cleveland's illegitimate child, and Teddy Roosevelt's alleged drunkenness were all pushed by opponents during nasty presidential campaigns.
After Watergate and Nixon's dirty tricks, carrying out surreptitious attacks, even those based on the truth, took on a measure of risk. During the 1987 race for the Democratic nomination Michael Dukakis's campaign manager, John Sasso, and his political director, Paul Tully, slipped to several media outlets a videotape that showed an opponent, Senator Joseph Biden, delivering a speech partially plagiarized from the British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock. This prompted further scrutiny, and subsequent revelations of plagiarism and academic exaggeration drove Biden from the race. When it was learned that his campaign had supplied the damaging tape, Dukakis felt compelled to call a news conference and later fired his aides.