Patterico's Pontifications

4/1/2007

L.A. Times Not Alone: Paper Was Just the Latest Target of Thomas Rooney’s Astroturfing Campaign

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 9:25 am



On Friday, the Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed on deteriorating sewer pipes, written by Thomas Rooney, the head of a company that replaces such pipes. That same day, a blogger at Radosh.net revealed that the piece had been promoted in spam e-mails, and had already been published in other places on the Internet. I wrote this post about the moldy and self-promotional opinion piece, and called it an “op-ad” due to its remarkable resemblance to an actual advertisement that the company had developed to promote its products and services.

Commenter Becky did some more digging, and learned that the op-ad was simply one in a long line of Rooney-penned op-ads run by newspapers throughout the country. In other words, the Los Angeles Times was far from the first publication to fall for Rooney’s self-promoting tactic.

On August 15, 2006, the Boston Globe ran an op-ed by Rooney, about corroding Alaskan oil piplines. Rooney turned the topic around to his favorite issue: corroding sewer pipelines. The piece opened:

AS BAD AS they are, the corroding Alaskan oil pipelines in the news are far from the worst in America — though you might never know that from recent headlines, and as I found out in the media aftermath of the pipeline shutdown.

As head of a company that repairs more oil, water, and sewer pipes than any other firm, I found myself talking to print and electronic reporters from across the country who wanted to know the inside story of the Alaskan pipes.

(All emphasis in this post is mine.)

On August 17, 2006, the Washington Times ran the same op-ed:

Bad as they are, the corroding Alaskan oil pipelines are far from the worst in America, though you might never know it from the recent headlines. I discovered this recently in the media aftermath of the pipeline shutdown.

As president and chief executive officer of a company that repairs more oil, water and sewer pipes than any other company around the world, I found myself talking to print and electronic reporters from across the country who wanted to know the inside story of the Alaskan pipes.

In addition to touting Rooney’s status as president and CEO of a large sewer pipe repair company, both versions of the piece also contained a signature phrase: “[M]ost sewer pipes were built 60 years ago, and only intended to last 50 years.” (You can read the line in the linked Boston Globe piece. To read it in the Washington Times piece, you have to go to page 2, which is available only in the cached form, here.) If you read my previous post, you know that this line sounds a lot like a line from Friday’s L.A. Times op-ad: “Most water and sewer pipes in the United States were built 60 years ago — but were meant to last 50 years. Do the math.” It turns out that some variant of that line appears in just about every piece of writing Rooney ever produces. He probably whispers the line in his sleep.

On August 15, 2006, the same day that this piece in the Boston Globe, the exact same piece appeared on an Internet site for the Water Infrastructure Network.

In September 2006, the hot topic in the news was E. coli in spinach. Here’s how Rooney turned that into an op-ed about sewer pipes, in the Toledo Blade:

WHEN E. coli in spinach makes hundreds of people sick, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is all over it.

But when millions of people get diseases every year from the same bugs spilling into our waterways from broken sewage pipes, the CDC says nothing.

Very clever. The op-ed also said:

Most sewer pipes were built 60 years ago, but meant to last 50 years.

. . . .

As the president and CEO of a company that inspects and repairs more sewer pipes than any in the world, I’ve seen the problem firsthand.

On October 5, 2006, the Roanoke Times ran an op-ed by Rooney which began:

When E. coli in spinach makes dozens of people sick, the Centers for Disease Control is all over it. But when millions of people get diseases every year from exactly the same bugs spilling into our waterways from broken sewage pipes, the CDC has nothing to say.

Yes, it is the same op-ed as ran in September in the Toledo Blade. And, of course, it has the all-important lines:

Most sewer pipes were built 60 years ago, but meant to last 50 years.

. . . .

As the president and CEO of a company that inspects and repairs more sewer pipes than any in the world, I’ve seen the problem firsthand.

Are you starting to see a pattern?

Rooney next turned his attention to sinkholes. As Radosh.net already documented, a version of an op-ed about sinkholes appeared in Inside the Bay Area in December 2006. On March 13, 2007, the Ashland, Kentucky Daily Independent ran a Rooney-penned letter to the editor that said:

Last year was the worst year ever for sinkholes in America. This year will be worse.

Here’s why: Most sewer pipes were built 60 years ago but meant to last 50 years. They are breaking at record rates doing record damage all over the country — including Ashland. We ignore them until they break — when it’s too late.

As president of the largest oil, water and sewer pipe company in the world, we have video tapes of what these pipes look like from the inside, including some from the Ashland area.

I’m starting to get the sense that Thomas Rooney is the president of the largest oil, water and sewer pipe company in the world. It’s a good thing we have such a company, because (did you know?) most sewer pipes were built 60 years ago, but were meant to last only 50 years.

The “Inside the Bay Area” op-ed reappeared in a blog comment and in spam e-mails in March 2007.

And then, finally, it appeared in the L.A. Times.

Ironically, on December 1, 2006, Rooney ran a piece in Civil Engineering News, which decried the lack of publicity that the issue of deteriorating sewer pipes has received:

As president and CEO of the company that looks inside more broken sewage, water, and oil pipes than any company in the world, I guess we should take our fair share of the blame for not doing more to get the word out. . . .

. . . .

So here is the message civil engineers need to spread: Most water and sewer pipes in America were built 60 years ago, but they were meant to last only 50 years.

He ends the piece with a call to action: everyone must do their part to convince local municipalities that deteriorating sewer pipes need to be replaced. Which, it just so happens, means money in Thomas Rooney’s pocket.

The message is indeed getting out, Mr. Rooney. And who better to spread the word than the “president and CEO of a company that inspects and repairs more sewer pipes than any in the world”?

P.S. In 2005, on this very site, See Dubya had a fascinating guest post about this phenomenon happening with letters to the editor. A guy named Paul Kokoski had managed to get the same letter to the editor (about the election of Pope Benedict XVI) printed in the L.A. Times, the Washington Post, the New York Times, Canada’s National Post, and the Miami Herald. The very same guy had a letter about the previous Pope’s death printed in the Irish Times, the Tobago News, the Chicago Sun-Times, Al-Ahram Weekly, the Taipei Times, and the Korea Times — among many others.

Rooney appears to be the op-ed version of that guy.

4 Responses to “L.A. Times Not Alone: Paper Was Just the Latest Target of Thomas Rooney’s Astroturfing Campaign”

  1. It’s official; this guy’s my new hero.

    David N. Scott (71e316)

  2. Sign up for sewer off-sets here:
    http://patterico.com/2007/03/17/5972/i-am-just-kidding/

    DDA Dave (acb56e)

  3. I see this happening with increasing frequency in which I read a letter in the San Francisco Chronicle, and the next day I read the exact same letter in the San Jose Mercury News, and so on.

    aunursa (56dfae)

  4. We know this: many (most?) news and op-ed personnel at the LAT are stupid and lazy. So is it a surprise that they get beat up by smart energetic outsiders?

    This is not news; it’s like “Rock falls. Gravity blamed.”

    BlacquesJacquesShellacques (a1a544)


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