POLITICS
04/05/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama Campaign Staff Frustrated As Team Credit Goes To Individuals

Since the presidential race ended, there has been no shortage of individuals -- with varying connections to Barack Obama's campaign -- who have been bestowed the title of new media architect. Recently, four different articles described four different staffers with titles like Obama's "tech guru" and "media wizard," "the man who galvanized scores of Barack Obama voters," and the individual who "masterminded Barack Obama's groundbreaking" online effort.

The proliferation of such glowing profiles has had a depressing side effect: as companies and individuals profit (not just financially) from their campaign connections, others who played integral roles feel frustrated, former campaign officials say. In interviews with the Huffington Post, several members of the Obama team objected to a series of articles in which the press appeared to inflate the impact that various individuals had on the campaign.

Take the case of Thomas Gensemer, who two weeks ago was introduced by the British media as "the man behind [Obama's] online election campaign," a description that even Gensemer acknowledges is overstated. While he played an integral role as the managing director for Blue State Digital -- the company responsible for Obama's innovative web tactics -- his connection to the campaign was a bit removed. Joe Rospars, co-founder of BSD, was Obama's much-heralded tech strategist. Gensemer helped lead the company as it, in turn, worked on Obama matters.

"My involvement is and was that I am Managing Partner of Blue State Digital and am therefore the public face and the day-to-day executive management," he told the Huffington Post. "For nearly two years we [BSD] had the great honor of being partners with the Obama campaign -- both as the technology provider and with our co-founder and partner Joe Rospars managing the new media team from campaign headquarters."

So how did Gensemer wind up as individual who "oversaw Mr Obama's slick online campaign"? Like others who received ego-boosting media treatment, it seemed to be the product of overzealous reporters.

"He gives full credit to his fellow director, Joe Rospars," said Stephen Moss, who penned a piece for the Guardian that still managed to call Gensemer the man who "masterminded Barack Obama's groundbreaking... online presidential campaign."

Indeed, the media release touting Gensemer's speech at City University in London contained no suggestion that he was individually to credit. Blue State and Gensemer, who are trying to expand business in the U.K., say they even made efforts to correct the descriptions -- reaching out to individual papers and posting notes on the company's blog.

Still, even putting aside the flawed reporting, other former Obama staffers say that Gensemer's media rounds struck a discordant chord.

"It is sort of this weird thing where Blue State has a lot of people knocking on their doors and they should. They have all the tools built during the campaign and they also have Joe Rospars," one Obama campaign aide told the Huffington Post. "That said, Thomas was hardly ever at the Chicago headquarters... I don't really care who takes credit for whatever. But if the credit is going anywhere is should be going to Joe."

The point of frustration, as it is described, is not directed at Gensemer himself. "He can speak authoritatively about our strategies," another staffer said. "This is an issue with the British press." Nor is it a function of personal jealousy. Rather, aides say, it is the notion that the individual is being elevated over the team. The problem is, in a way, unique to those who worked for Obama, where aides saw themselves as an extension of a movement rather than part of a political launching pad.

"People will always try to guess who played the lead roles but no one person deserves the credit for what the campaign achieved," said, Michael Slaby, technology director for the campaign. "The ones who really deserve all the credit are the New Media and Technology teams on the campaign who toiled long hours and accomplished more than anyone thought possible."

Indeed, in the weeks since the election concluded, there have been a slew of articles crediting specific individuals for Obama's web success. As pointed out by campaign aides, Scott Goodstein, who ran text-messaging and mobile communications operations, was dubbed the campaign's "media wizard" in a CNN commentary. Julius Genachowski, who was tapped to head the Federal Communications Commission, was credited for "spearheading Obama's online campaign strategy." And Ben Self, who led the DNC's tech arm and worked with the Obama team, was described as "the man who galvanised scores of Barack Obama voters."

All of these people deserve varying degrees of credit, aides say. But not all could have been the linchpin behind the campaign. None, in the end, come close to Rahaf Harfoush. The "new media expert," "member of Obama's social media team," and author of the new book, "Yes We Did! An inside look at how social media built the Obama brand," in actuality had the rather mundane job of monitoring comments on my.barackobama.com.

All of which gets to the larger point, veterans of the campaign say. What was, for nearly two years, a broad effort at using technology to innovate politics has begun to evolve into a series of specific and individual successes. And while much of it is deserved, and even more of it is the product of a press consumed with personal narratives, it still has trampled on other people's sensitivities.

"I think what is frustrating for people is when an individual or vendor is getting all the credit," said one of the aforementioned staffers. "It denies the credit to the unbelievable group of people who toiled and gave their hearts to the campaign, who were overlooked in those articles."