January 25, 2010 3 Comments
One of the more annoying side effects of the leftish side of the blogosphere remaining so quiet about the “Ellie Light” fracas is that they have much longer memories than I do about various ‘astroturfing’ incidents, and they could contribute to a discussion about this far better than I’ll be able to.
So what is astroturfing? This was one of the examples that I was thinking of:
Last month, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) announced a congressional investigation of the DC lobbying firm Bonner & Associates. The firm, which has a long history of astroturfing, was caught forging anti-clean energy reform letters — purportedly from groups representing women and people of color — to Congress.
When I think of “astroturf,” I think of something that is fake and pretending to be something it’s not. Politically, it is a corporation or political organization pretending to be individual members of the public. They pretend to be individuals who have spontaneously decided to speak out and have no apparent connection to the organization.
I doubt that “Ellie Light” is connected to a corporation or organization, along the lines of what Ann Althouse has said, because a skilled astroturfer just wouldn’t be so stupid. So “Ellie Light” doesn’t really fit the definition. I think that “Ellie Light” used a version of ‘astroturf’ tactics by pretending to speak as a local resident, but I find it hard to believe at this point that there was encouragement or payment for such a deceitful and poorly executed stunt.
I also think that Organizing For America’s online service to send letters to editors is beyond ridiculous to suggest actual text and to believe that imploring people to not copy and paste would actually work, but I also don’t think that it is astroturf. It is an organized effort to get real people to write real letters, and it isn’t a campaign to write letters that lie about residency. It’s a badly designed online service that has led to embarrassing results for the Democratic Party, even though there isn’t anything particularly nefarious about asking real people to write real letters to their local newspaper. I think it is like the North County Times response (via Patterico) says:
Regarding organized letter writing campaigns, however, I’m not particularly alarmed by them. People from all across the political spectrum adopt other people’s language and use it for various purposes including debating with their friends and neighbors. Nothing new there. It’s just easier to mount letter campaigns with the internet —- doesn’t cost you postage.
But I digress. What “Ellie Light” did was different than an organized letter writing campaign. “Ellie” could have sent all the letters, but without a fake residence. It might not have been published as widely in smaller newspapers, but we don’t get to know that because “Ellie” never gave those papers the opportunity to decide if they wanted to publish a letter from an what appears to be a California location.
It was deceitful and wrong and I hope “Ellie” apologizes. Especially if there were good intentions at the core of this. So far, acknowledgment of how wrong this all is seems to be missing from statements attributed to “Ellie Light.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer quotes a recent email:
I think, however, this one letter that I wrote, is unique enough, that it was worth widespread attention, simple as that.
The lies weren’t worth it. The lies damaged whatever good you may have hoped to accomplish. You have brought shame on yourself and your cause, and I hope you apologize to each publication that you have deceived.