The Many Careers of Hilary Rosen

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Hilary Rosen has had a lot of jobs: a Napster-killing lobbyist, the Huffington Post's political director, Democratic talking head on CNN, and, on Wednesday night, she became conservatives' current Enemy No. 1. Rosen has been Washington-famous for years, having served as the head of the Recording Industry Association of America in the early 2000s, when it was ruining the fun of college students nationwide by shutting down Napster and other file-sharing services. But she became normal-people-famous yesterday for saying that Ann Romney "never worked a day in her life," and doubling-down on Twitter. "Honest question: Who is Hilary Rosen?" tweeted Slate's Dave Weigel Thursday. Allow us to explain.

Rosen is far from the first lobbyist to become a political pundit. There's Lanny Davis, Mark Penn, Tom Ridge, Barry McCaffrey. Here's lobbyist Charlie Black serving as an "informal adviser" to Mitt Romney, meaning his job is to give reporters quotes about Romney without giving too much away. But Rosen's rehabilitation from from lobbyist to pundit is more remarkable, though, given her fun-killing role at the RIAA. In 2003, Matt Bai described her in Wired as "seen as the embodiment of a venal corporate culture hurtling toward obsolescence. It seems she’ll stop at nothing to frighten those who share music online instead of buying it in a store – hacking into networks, threatening universities and businesses, sending out subpoenas to unmask music-swappers."

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After leaving the RIAA, she started, described in a press release as "the leading online social networking, entertainment and lifestyle site for lesbians." The site appears defunct, as the url now redirects to Showtime's page for The L Word. In May 2008, she was named political director and Washington editor at large of the Huffington Post. She began working as a Democratic analyst for CNN the same year. 

On cable news shows, Rosen has been playing the role of "Democratic strategist" -- more useful for explaining Democratic thinking than for her persona itself (Here she is arguing with Ann Coulter over Sarah Palin's book. Here she is talking about Democrats' reaction to Super Tuesday.). But she also advised Democrats. There's some dispute over whether Rosen currently advises the Democratic National Committee. Romney's campaign (of course) says yes. The DNC and the Obama campaign say no. But in February, Rosen was noted for giving media training to DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The Wall Street Journal's Monica Langley reported that Rosen -- along with Anita Dunn, who works at the same P.R. firm as Rosen and whom the DNC admits to working with -- told Wasserman Schultz to "tone it down" and "back off a smidgen." The congresswoman said of the advice, "I'm glad to get constructive criticism."

Even if she seemed anti-Internet in her lobbying days, she's clearly web-savvy. It appears she's a vigorous editor of her Wikipedia page, as the user Hilaryrosen has only edited the Hilary Rosen page, and done so dozens of times since January 2007. Before that, an anonymous IP address made a rather flattering edit to the page. In January 2006, this sentence was deleted: "However, many media reports of Rosen's resignation indicated that RIAA member executives had become increasingly dissatisfied with Rosen's tactics and her inability to rein in mp3 sharing online." This sentence was added: "Many say that despite Rosen's publlic loyalty to the industry, much of her last few years were spent privately encouraging the member companies to embrace internet distribution. The slow pace resulted in her ultimate frustration and in the industry being unable to catch up with the phenomenon of free file sharing." This would indicate that Rosen has media trained herself well enough to weather the current storm. As former chief of staff for Bill Clinton John Podesta told Wired back in 2003, "She can punch you in the face, and you’re still smiling after she does it."

Rosen's controversial comment Wednesday:

She defended her Ann Romney comments on CNN Thursday morning:

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