Patterico's Pontifications


Newspaper Editors Begin to Address Pro-Obama Astroturfing

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 6:27 pm

One of the principal functions of political blogs is to keep Big Media in check. If you are concerned by the discovery this past weekend of a spate of pro-Obama Astroturfing, it’s because you agree that political persuasion should not be accomplished through misleading tactics. To the extent that Big Media is enabling such tactics, through sloth or purpose, we must hold them accountable.

Towards that end, I am pleased to see that at least two editors address the Astroturfing issue head-on. One published the infamous Ellie Light letter; the other published Astroturf originating from the web site of the Democrat party.

First, courtesy of SarahW on Twitter, we have the editor of Ohio’s Chillicothe Gazette.

Interestingly, he appears to understand the significance of the issue, and has implemented procedures to prevent Astroturfing. But they didn’t work, because of the dishonesty of “Light”:

By now, much is being made of the letter-writing campaign of “Ellie Light”, who apparently had her letter defending President Obama published in the Jan. 17 Gazette and — both before and after — a lot of newspapers and with different local addresses.

I’ve written several times on Astroturfing — a way of sending form political letters to multiple news outlets with a few key strokes — and authored a column on Jan. 17 on how the Gazette was bolstering Opinion page procedures to make sure the opinions submitted were true and accurate.

Yes, the irony of having a letter to the editor situation blow up in your face just days after saying the newspaper is following new procedures isn’t lost on me. It’s embarrassing and regrettable.

But if we hadn’t followed those procedures, I’d feel a lot worse.

In this case we did follow them and were lied to about the local nature of the opinion and the address used. In short, we were duped.

Just how he was duped is fascinating, and I think deals a blow to the idea that Light is an unsophisticated grandma:

We received Light’s letter via e-mail (sent from a Yahoo! address) on Jan. 6. The letter did not appear to have the telltale signs of Astroturf (framed a specific way, key phrases, etc.). One thing the original letter did not contain, however, was a street address or a phone number, which is required for our verification purposes.

So, on Jan. 7, we wrote her a reply e-mail and asked her to provide both. She provided a street address on Cherokee Road in Chillicothe and a phone number and verified both her opinion and her street as local.

Interesting. I still have my doubts about whether Ellie Light is a single person, as opposed to some employee of an Axelrod-affiliated P.R. firm. If she is, however, she somehow was able to prove an apparently genuine local Ohio address, and a phone number (whether that was local, the editor does not say). That’s quick thinking for someone who has an IP address tracing back to Huntington Beach. (If indeed that Ellie Light is not a P.R.-generated lightning rod designed to absorb attention from the larger concern of who might be behind her effort.)

I think the editor might want to follow up on the address to see if it is indeed genuine — if he truly thinks this is an important issue.

More at the link, which I advise you to read in its entirety.

Second, we can thank Bradley J. Fikes for asking the relevant editor at the North County Times to respond to the fact that his paper printed Astroturf from the Democrat party. The editor sent me the following e-mail, which has been reprinted at the paper’s site:


The North County Times may be unique in its treatment of letters to the editor. We publish all letters that we receive that are from someone within our circulation area or concern a topic of local interest (limiting writers to once every other week). We don’t pick and choose letters for “worthiness” or “political balance,” but run them on, roughly, a FIFO [first in first out] basis. When volume picks up we add additional letters space to the section (we have run as many as five pages of letters during the peak of a hot election).

So, publishing a letter that contains language duplicated elsewhere isn’t surprising.

On a number of occasions, we have been hit with letter writing campaigns by organizations who suggest “talking points” to their members. For instance, a few years ago during one of Bush’s state of the union speeches I was hit with dozens of letters from people with local addresses beating on the president’s remarks with nearly identical wording —- and this was 20 minutes before Bush had finished his remarks. I emailed several of the writers back to ask if this was part of a letter campaign. Several people wrote back to affirm it as so.

Our normal procedure with a letter is to call the writer to confirm the authorship (an admittedly loose verification system, but that is one price of publishing more than 6,000 letters a year). If we catch some one plagiarizing, we will ban or warn and ban on a reoccurrence (adopting suggested language doesn’t strike me as plagiarism even if it is lazy). If we find a copy and paste campaign, we typically will run one or two as examples and discard the rest. We also don’t knowingly allow false signatures on letters.

When facts are obviously in error, we will edit it, try to get the letter writer to straighten it out, or reject the letter if it is unsalvageable.

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.

Since you have raised the question about this particular letter, I have left a voice mail and sent an email query to its author. She appears to be a local citizen (there are several internet traces of her presence locally). I’ll let you know how it comes out.


Kent Davy

I appreciate the e-mail, but I think this attitude misunderstands the need for disclosure. As I explained in an earlier post, when people repeat talking points fed to them by a large organization, and pass them off as their own, readers may well be misled:

While the participants were undoubtedly well-meaning, the effect is simple. A Centralized Body determines a message. Minions repeat it. And readers are tricked into thinking that the message is individualized.

Clearly, the credibility of the letters is undercut once the reader realizes that the letter writer is passing along other people’s thoughts verbatim. It is indeed plagiarism, although authorized, because it is not “quoting” with attribution but rather disguising another’s writing as one’s own. When you realize that you are reading a Central Organization’s thoughts, you realize that the letter writer may have put very little thought into sending the letter. Indeed, the letter writer might not even agree with all of the things he himself “said.”

Granted, it’s “just” a letter to the editor. Maybe it’s nothing to you. But it’s allotted space given to someone to try to persuade. Large political organizations motivate people to do this because it works. And it works with the element of deception.

It’s a small deception, to be sure. Venial, not mortal. But deception nonetheless.

And by deliberately failing to tell readers that the letter is mass-produced, the editor of the North County Times is knowingly aiding and abetting that small deception. I don’t think he should be.

But I do thank the editor for his response.

Finally, I have received all sorts of recent tips and theories as to who “Ellie Light” might be. This may well be useful information, if we learn it — but I urge people not to get too carried away with that question, such that they lose sight of the bigger picture. Which is the need to work to eliminate deception from our political discourse.

Of course that effort will never be entirely successful — just like we’ll never wipe out crime. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the effort.

To the extent that revealing Ellie Light’s identity helps that cause, great. Just don’t take your eye off the ball.

UPDATE: The first version of this post erroneously said (in one place) that Bradley’s paper published the Ellie Light letter. This is an error that I thought I had caught before publishing, but Firefox crashed as I was composing the post and apparently the edit didn’t take. Sorry for the confusion.

UPDATE x2: Another newspaper chain apologizes. (See updates.)

79 Responses to “Newspaper Editors Begin to Address Pro-Obama Astroturfing”

  1. A con streight out of the white house. A few more dirty tricks that they can’t get away with should send the Chicago criminals to jail.

    Scrapiron (996c34)

  2. Thanks to your blog and others. The light was turned on, and the cockroaches scatter.

    Teetop (1f1551)

  3. Sir, I encourage you in this effort. You are doing extraordinary and worthy work. Keep it up.

    ted c (599799)

  4. Sir, I encourage you in this effort. You are doing extraordinary and worthy work. Keep it up.

    ted c (599799)

  5. I remember during the campaign season Obama would always shun the national media and focus on the local newspapers….

    yarrrrr (a1b2c2)

  6. Excellent! Nice props to you for your intrepid work on this from Malkin tonight on Hannity. “” she reiterated again.

    Dana (1e5ad4)

  7. More lies, deception and BS courtesy of the Obama Whitehouse; it looks like the northside of a southbound mule.

    Kevin Connell (ecf60f)

  8. Eh. “” she reiterated again.

    Dana (1e5ad4)

  9. The suggestion that all Astroturfed letters be marked as such is an excellent one. It would make such campaigns much less attractive.

    Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (9eb641)

  10. I’m impressed with the response from the Chillicothe Gazette editor.

    DRJ (84a0c3)

  11. How does Kent Davy reconcile his Ellie Light with the one whose IP address in an email to the WSJ was found to be Brest, France?
    Ellie Vanelli“… – 25 Jan 10

    AD - RtR/OS! (a1830d)

  12. AD – RtR/OS!,

    Unless I’m greatly mistaken, we didn’t publish Ellie Light. We published a letter from Terri Reese of Vista.

    Can Patterico correct?

    Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (9eb641)

  13. An editor for a major newspaper using the term “reoccurance” [sic]?

    No wonder our newspapers are in such sorry shape. Even being ignorant of economics, climate science, military affairs and every other real occupation they cover, you’d think they passed English 101 on their way out of journalism school.

    docweasel (b970ac)

  14. […] 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 […]

    define “astroturf” « The Church of the Apocalyptic Kiwi (b4fd43)

  15. Sorry, Brother Bradley…when I read the post I just assumed that it was another instance of Ellie crawling out from under her rock.

    AD - RtR/OS! (a1830d)

  16. You know, the editor is right in a way — it is OK for people to follow a central message — but they should say so, then. How simple — “I agree with this statement by the president: blah blah” I don’t care if someone agrees with the blurb off the back of the telephone book — just tell me where you got it.
    It’s the logical impossibility of so many “ellie lights” living in different cities having the same thought. Had they even bothered to change it to evan light, and edward light, and eddie light — well, then, we might have missed it, right? That’s the lie — that’s the crud — there’s no way for so many Ellie Lights to think alike everywhere. They can’t even get their manipulation right, geez.

    Jim Hlavac (5d99c6)

  17. AD – RtR/OS!,

    No worries. I am impressed with the speed with which this is all coming together.

    Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (9eb641)

  18. […] reports that “Newspaper Editors Begin to Address Pro-Obama Astroturfing” and praises Mike Throne, the Editor of Ohio’s Chillicothe Gazette, who writes: I’ve […]

    About that letter from Ellie Light | flashpoint (9c64d0)

  19. Was it Mark Twain who said that a lie is half way around the world before the truth can get its’ pants on?
    Well, we’ve been lied to enough, and (in the immortal words of Howard Beale, and Paddy Chayefsky) we’re pissed off and are not going to take it anymore!

    AD - RtR/OS! (a1830d)

  20. Awesome work Patterico. You are setting the standard with your thoroughness on this topic.

    And you point here is spot on. Masquerading as common opinion, institutional opinion makers and their minions are lying.

    Keep up the good work.

    Clavius (b00448)

  21. Bradley,

    The way I read it, Patterico said the NC Times “printed Astroturf from the Democrat party.” He didn’t say it was an Ellie letter but Ellie is so much a part of this story that it’s easy to conflate the two and I’m glad you pointed it out.

    DRJ (84a0c3)

  22. Evening all. Um, did any of these people pick up a phone book to check the name and address?

    scr_north (63bbb1)

  23. DRJ,
    Just to avoid confusion, what you read has been corrected by Patterico after I bought this to his attention. The earlier version said:

    Second, we can thank Bradley J. Fikes for asking the relevant editor at the North County Times to respond to the fact that his paper printed Ellie Light’s Astroturf.

    Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (9eb641)

  24. er, “brought this to his attention.”

    Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (9eb641)

  25. It’s a propaganda campaign, pure and simple. It fit nicely with the two hour Dateline on Sunday night, showing the “horrors” of healthcare with insurance companies. They are planning to ram it through and this is our preparation.

    Texmom (6317d3)

  26. Bradley,

    I’m glad you pointed that out, too. Maybe I’ll catch up soon.

    DRJ (84a0c3)

  27. I really don’t care how professional and objective the editors and “fact checkers” try to sound when they get caught passing on talking points. It’s a sign of laziness, incompetence, and political bias. Put those in whatever order you choose.

    glenn (757adc)

  28. DRJ,
    No worries. This whole Astroturf-dissecting process is quite timely, with the midterm elections later this year.

    Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (9eb641)

  29. glenn,

    I’m sure there’s a few editors out there who printed this because they liked it, but the more I learn about this, the more it seems that editors were actually verifying this letter, and Ellie simply continued her fraud. It’s not really feasible for editors to drive up to her reported addresses. She conned them, but at least several editors did put in an effort to weed out the fakes.

    I kept bashing them for this too. It’s amazing to think that someone could get in this many papers, as though they were syndicated. But I guess mostly this organization was very good at lying. I guess they wouldn’t make a very good astroturf company if they weren’t. Kinda want to give credit where it’s due.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  30. Re: the use of phone books to confirm locations…
    Don’t know if you realize this, but here in SoCal, almost 50% of landline subscribers have unlisted numbers, and – as is more and more common in urban areas – many people don’t have landlines at all, relying on cell-phones (which are also unlisted, and could be from a completely different area code).

    AD - RtR/OS! (a1830d)

  31. Bradley,

    I also like that your paper tries to publish most of the letters it receives. That obviously isn’t the answer for every paper but if it’s an option, it gives local readers an unvarnished look at who writes and what their concerns are.

    DRJ (84a0c3)

  32. Thank you, DRJ. The folks at my paper will appreciate it!

    Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (9eb641)

  33. Here’s an interesting take on this whole issue if someone wanted to do a little reporting work (ideally you’d get the Columbia Journalism Review doing it, but they’re more interested in politics nowadays than journalism).

    With the recent downsizing at many newspapers, how has the letter-checking process changed?

    I know at the San Diego Union-Tribune they sacked the letters editor last year along with the editorial writer who would usually fill in for the letters editor when he was on vacation. (Four years ago the phone calls for letter-checking were done by the department secretary. That position no longer exists.)

    They were stretched so thin that the cartoonist told me that he’d been told they might need him to make calls to check authorship of the letters. Yep, that’s right. If you write a letter to the editor of the San Diego Union-Tribune, there’s a chance you’ll get a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist calling you at home to verify you wrote it.

    I suspect that with all the downsizing that’s occurred, that this is just one area many papers have decided they can slack off on when it comes to checking.

    Hoystory (7e6995)

  34. I believe Mr. Hoy is onto something… The notoriously bottom-line Gannett operation has been disproportionately hit.

    Layoffs | Downside of eliminating newsroom jobs?
    18 GCI papers caught in ‘Ellie Light’ letter campaign
    (Updated at 2:29 p.m. with more Wisconsin papers.)
    Here’s what can happen when you reduce the number of editors fact-checking stories and letters to the editor:

    Nearly 70 newspapers and other media outlets have now been identified as publishing the same pro-President Obama letter to the editor, according to a politically conservative blog that’s documenting this growing journalism scandal. So far, 18 Gannett papers and websites are on the list, including USA Today; 10 are in Wisconsin alone, where editing and printing have been consolidated at regional production hubs.

    The Gannett papers are nearly 26% of all those outlets that published the so-called Ellie Light letter, even though GCI publishes only 84 U.S. papers — just 6% of the nation’s 1,400 dailies. (The Gannett percentage may be higher, since the current total of nearly 70 includes non-newspaper publications.) . . .

    Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (9eb641)

  35. About false addresses and false phone numbers tied to those false addresses:

    It is very easy, now, to use an online map service to zero in on a particular address. But let’s say you want to make a fictitious address for yourself. You bring up the city map, complete with street names and all that rot. You find a residential area an look at those street names. Then you go back and plug in a house number on that street an see if it hits properly. If it does, you got your house number. (For best results, choose a duplex or apartment building (but you’ll need to know “1” or “A” or whatnot) so you don’t choose the residence of a well-known resident.)

    Next, you go get yourself a cell phone and have the phone set to that community’s area code and cell prefix.

    And you’re in.

    If you don’t like your cell phone service, you can always cancel within the 30-day trial time-frame.

    And can you buy a cell phone in LA and get a new phone number for Mansfield, OH? In a word, yes. My daughter is in the Army. She is stationed in Fort Hood, TX. While there, she changed services and got a new phone number more than once. And those new phone numbers were local to any resident (any resident at all) in my town, despite her being over 1000 miles away.

    So, a real address and a local phone number that works is not in any way a guarantee that the person on the phone with you has ever been within 2000 miles of your town.

    John Hitchcock (888da3)

  36. Comment by John Hitchcock — 1/25/2010 @ 11:51 pm

    Ain’t technology wonderful (and a bitch)?

    AD - RtR/OS! (a1830d)

  37. Seems to me that teachers use web site tools to check for plagiarized work from their students. How hard could it be for newspaper opinion pages, nation-wide, to maintain a searchable database of submissions? Look what you guys accomplished with Google. Isn’t this just one more example of an inferior newspaper product? Why would I spend my money on that?

    Philip (a5fd5d)

  38. Putting the Astroturf Ellie Caper into proper perspective…

    “The ‘dramatization’ will have you on the edge of your seat!” quips Patterico, whose detective work in the Astroturf Ellie Caper was hailed by Michelle Malkin on Hannity last evening. We caught the show and the screenshot above in a……

    sisu (0436bf)

  39. […] PATTERICO: Newspaper Editors Begin To Address Pro-Obama Astroturfing. […]

    Instapundit » Blog Archive » PATTERICO: Newspaper Editors Begin To Address Pro-Obama Astroturfing…. (fe8e62)

  40. I prefer Amstel Light…you know, they have to be pretty stupid to try something like this…it almost seems like a set up

    kirk (ba0c27)

  41. kirk, I think its possible for Obama’s astroturfers to be sophisticated enough and well enough funded to pull this off, and simultaneously stupid enough to think this would help Obama, or is simply the right thing to do regardless, because it’s not really about Obama… it’s about how evil the GOP is.

    Look at Obama’s favorite organizations. His church was very modern technologically compared to all churches I’ve been to. It’s still totally unpersuasive. Look at Obama’s employer, ACORN… they are sophisticated enough to fake businesses and cheat the IRS, and yet they fell for the lamest con ever when some white boy pretends to be a pimp. Look at the Weather Underground… those people were better at blowing eachother up than their target soldiers.

    Ellie’s organization thought it was smart, and wanted to bash the GOP, and didn’t understand how stupid its plan was. And I wonder if this is even the first time something like this was done. Regardless, the fact that this is pretty stupid doesn’t mean it’s a set up. If it’s a set up, who is being set up?

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  42. A Gannett editor I know pointed out that Web searches on his site bring up results from a local cluster of papers. So a search for “Ellie Light” in his paper shows that the letter was published there three times, though in fact his paper never published the letter at all, let alone three times. I figure he knows how his own system works, so these multiple listings could largely account for the overrepresentation of Gannett papers in the list.

    linda seebach (690aca)

  43. […] operates. And the mechanisms aren’t a whole lot different from the ones being described by Patterico over at his place (keep scrolling), with respect to the mobylizing of astroturf–with the […]

    The HillBuzz Guys (e3a4cc)

  44. Good to know that newspapers are admitting that pro-Obama partisans filled their pages with campaign-generated material. Also, that they published phony letters to the editor.

    Mike G (37a6e0)

  45. Approach these newspapers and ask their help in tracing any electronic trace from the Astroturfers! E-mails’ electronic headers could have some interesting nuggets.

    Jim (47d4a8)

  46. Calling out whoever or whatever “Ellie Light” is will not stop Astroturfing; bad actors will not clean up their acts because they’ve been told it’s wrong, as long as said acts are more effective than they are expensive. The burden, however unfair, has to rest on the media outlets. And they’re not going to catch everybody.

    So it’s good that Patterico is here!

    ISTM that (bad actors being bad and all) the emphasis ought to be, “What was so all-fired compelling about THIS letter?” What letters DIDN’T get published because this one did? How many letters to editors do these papers receive, and how did they break down, opinion-wise, on the subject of Pres. Obama’s performance? IOW, media bias is the story. If “Ellie Light” should happen to originate in or close to the Administration, well, that’s embarrassing and low, but in effect it’s just a way for the Administration to say, “Give us a break! This is hard!” which they’d be castigated (properly) as whiners for saying directly.

    Jamie (27c526)

  47. In Dubuque, our arrogant editor went to attack letter writers who didn’t agree with Snopes and factcheck, but ignoring the astroturfing of the Obama administration. He’s a denying leftie who can’t admit his bias.

    PCD (1d8b6d)

  48. White Pages lists only one Ellie Light in the whole country. Not in Ohio.

    Gringo (6085f0)

  49. I just posted this over at Mudville Gazette. I’m not sure if it’s the right path, but seems logical.

    The name Ellie Light has caused not a small amount of pondering….

    If viewed like this:

    L E Lite

    and you add a pause between the L and the E, it comes out like this:

    L Elite

    What “L” word do we typically associaate with a term using the end word “elite”? Maybe:

    Liberal Elite

    So is a letter from Ellie Light a propaganda piece, to help prop up their puppet, composed and signed by the liberal elite?

    Story in SC (1b5fc8)

  50. Ellie Light is the former Mrs. Richard Feder of Ft. Lee, New Jersey.

    ddh (6431a8)

  51. […] 26 Jan. Patterico finds one newspaper editor who gives evidence he was duped by “Ellie Light.” Don't pass by, pass it […]

    William M. Briggs, Statistician » Astroturfing Explosion: Who Did It? (34964b)

  52. Ellie Light is following my husband’s somewhat crazy Twitter page. My hubbie is an enthusiastic if not somewhat bombastic conservative (I make him stay anonymous) who types in text message-ease. He only has like 500 followers or so, but attracts liberals who like to be horrified by what he says – I find it very curious that Ellie Light found him – particularly since he did not know about the Ellie Light thing until I told him – at which point he said – ‘She started following me today!’ Weird and Weirder

    Jane (74b46c)

  53. If it’s political speech sponsored by an astroturfing organization that does not disclose its sponsorship, doesn’t that constitute a violation of McCain Feingold?

    That’s one part of the law that hasn’t been overturned. IANAL, but if this came from an organization and did not disclose, then doesn’t that make it an illegal communication?

    Rob (a9bdda)

  54. It’s a conspiracy within a conspiracy! LOL.
    Yeah, the name itself is probably some pun to pwn us all.
    And agreed, the real story is editorial bias. I mean, if this letter is so appealing to so many editors that they all chose to publish it, it must resonate with their own bias. They were all magnetically attracted to the same talking points. News industry is genetically liberal.
    Seems too easy to unearth this story. I mean, they left the breadcrumbs with one name. If they wanted to be sophisticated, they could just print the same letter under different names with varied sentence construction. Instead they were balls out obvious.
    Perhaps the true story is that once this harmless event is brought to the attention of all media, they get us ALL to read the letter and think about what it is saying. And yes, it is whining, but hey, they get to point to Ellie, not themselves. She said it, not them.
    It might feel like some big scandal was broken by an alert internet media, but maybe it was just a nice Trojan Horse that we so easily opened the gates for.
    Seems like a great big ‘you got punked’ on us all.

    gareeth (f340a6)

  55. > So, on Jan. 7, we wrote her a reply e-mail and asked her to provide both. She provided a street address on Cherokee Road in Chillicothe and a phone number and verified both her opinion and her street as local.

    With something like Google Maps, it is anything but challenging to produce a particularly realistic address — especially if you also use the yellow pages to get an idea of what some area businesses may be.

    IgotBupkis (79d71d)

  56. Saw this astroturfer (I think) in WSJ’s WashWire comments section: Dodd on Health Care bill

    2:02 am January 26, 2010
    republicanblack wrote:
    Speaking as a republican and a conservative I thought at first that the health care legislation and reform effort was being forced down our throats and a debt to our children. But then I saw this article and it explained how we conservatives have framed the debate has crippled our ability to see it for what republicans in the past would have seen it. Now I have changed my mind I hope you will take a look and think about it too.

    Figured you’d want to know

    Todd, the Sofa King (54df94)

  57. I went to the New York Times and Washington Post websites and put “Ellie Light” into their search engines. Zero hits on both fronts! Guess this isn’t really news yet.

    Black Death (c4ee0a)

  58. 1. Political campaigns astrturf all the time because it works. They have been doing it for years. I’m amazed that people are surprised one bit by this.
    2. This company that fronted Ellie Light was stupid because they used the same name over and over. Dumb. If they hadn’t this would not have been caught.
    3. The Ellie Light –> L Elite observation is quite interesting. False Flag operation? Oh my! Wouldn’t that be something! I’m not naturally a conspiricist, but my spidey sense tingled a bit there. lol.

    Chris (aa1f80)

  59. These astroturfers could be exploiting the cheaper VoIP Internet phones to get local numbers in far-away cities.

    For $40, for instance, MagicJack will give you a gadget that plugs into the USB slot on your PC and allows you choose a phone number from cities across the country. The same is true of the free Google Voice, a call-forwarding service, although that’s still in beta and isn’t open to everyone.

    Mike Perry (deddc3)

  60. The Sacramento Bee ran here letter AS AN EDITORIAL from the Myrtle Beach Sun on 1.18.09.

    As of today, no comment whatsoever from the Bee.

    william (72ef42)

  61. […] has a good description of a deceitful propaganda effort in Newspaper Editors Begin to Address Pro-Obama Astroturfing. The case involves letters to the editor. Someone noticed essentially the same letter in a number […]

    Debasing the debate: the Ellie Light astroturfing case (cad324)

  62. I live 20 miles north of Chillicothe. I’ll check it out!

    addkodfu (edc3da)

  63. If you want to thank the Green Bay Press-Gazette for apologizing,, Warren Bluhm is the editor to contact.

    If you are hard core on ethics, ask him why he allows the Brown County (Green Bay) Democrat Chair to use a pseudonym on the P-G’s forums to lie about Republicans.

    PCD (1d8b6d)

  64. Liberals place deceptive calls to conservative talk shows. Posing as conservatives, they say something like, “I’ve been a lifelong conservative, but I can’t agree with Bush on….” The talk show hosts don’t seem to catch on, though the calls sound as if they are being read from a script.

    PacRim Jim (cbb867)

  65. PacRim Jim,
    These allegedly staunch conservatives also show up at Patterico from time to time. Exposing them is great sport.

    Bradley J. Fikes, C. O.R. (a18ddc)

  66. […] the lyrics here. The Ellie Light Astroturf Saga: Patterico has been all over it and notes that the press is finally picking it up. Mudville Gazette goes heavy on the sarcasm in this post. Michelle Malkin is watching the […]

    The Anchoress | A First Things Blog (f2568a)

  67. PacRim Jim, Rush Limbaugh regularly catches and calls out those callers. HIS Trojan Liberals usually start with, “I’ve been listening to you for twenty years,” or some such – I heard a VERY amusing one wherein the caller claimed to have been listening for a period of time that would’ve meant he was a fan back when Rush was a sportscaster in K.C., MO. Rush had fun with him: “Wow, in all my years in talk radio, I don’t think I’ve ever been called by one of my fans from my sportscasting days, especially one from [can’t remember where the caller was from, but it wasn’t Missouri]. Snerdly [Rush’s aliased assistant], when are you going to stop trying to catch me on these?”

    Jamie (27c526)

  68. I’m fine with serving as a watchdog on the big media, but it would be nice to see an honest acknowledgement that this blog is trailing the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which broke the story.

    Tom Jackson (dea42d)

  69. I’m fine with serving as a watchdog on the big media, but it would be nice to see an honest acknowledgement that this blog is trailing the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which broke the story.
    Comment by Tom Jackson — 1/26/2010 @ 2:22 pm

    Ideally, in the very first post, yes?

    At the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Sabrina Eaton makes a nice catch:


    Stashiu3 (44da70)

  70. Why hasn’t anyone commented on the obvious issue: The fact that so many papers jumped at the chance to print such a mundane, dreary letter just because it was pro-Obama. How many anti-Obama letters did the papers brush into the circular file before leaping on this pile of drivel.

    sportutegirl (b4ac30)

  71. sportutegirl,

    people have mentioned that aspect repeatedly.

    some papers have actually explains this pretty well, others have not. Indeed, in a few cases it’s clear to me that this astroturf was passed because the editor or blogger liked its message.

    But I don’t mind bias as much as deception.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  72. Perhaps it’s a sophomore high-school science fair project demonstrating the use of statistics. Two students wrote equivalently polemic letters from left and right views and sent them both to each paper. At their April science fair they will tally the results and document the acceptance rates, and invite their reviewers to come to their own conclusions as to why.

    Well, I can dream.

    Ari Tai (fb1dec)

  73. I don’t think it’s necessary for someone to try to establish a local phone number for the scam to work. With explosion of new area codes, people who have no landline phone and cell number portability, the link between an area code and a mailing address is going to becoming as anachronistic as area codes have ‘0’ or ‘1’ for second digit.

    DerHahn (25b0a3)

  74. I’m fine with serving as a watchdog on the big media, but it would be nice to see an honest acknowledgement that this blog is trailing the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which broke the story.

    Actually, Patterico and other blogs are not trailing the Plain Dealer; they are vigorously following up with scoops of their own. Give credit to the Plain Dealer for breaking ground, but the blogs have performed yeoman work in expanding upon the original story.

    As a reporter, I look at this as a teachable moment in what the MSM and blogs can perform together. It’s a symbiosis that sheds light (pun intended) on subjects the public needs to know about.

    Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (9eb641)

  75. “I’m fine with serving as a watchdog on the big media,”

    I read this as being snide. Anyway, kinda funny when someone tells the watchdog to get their acknowledgments straight, and doesn’t bother to see if they already covered that base. Not like I’m perfect either, but jeez.

    I tried to look up examples of Ellie, but every time I thought I found something it was already mentioned on this blog. It’s amazing how good a job the Army of Davids has done, and it’s not like any one blogger or journalist is pretending they are the ‘leader’ of the story.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  76. An amusing passage presenting the ‘right’ way to do it:

    “The best letters are short, contain a key fact or two, and reiterate important messages that have already been articulated by GOP leaders. If a particularly contentious legislative issue is coming to a head, for example, the writers are best advised to listen for the themes articulated by the [GOP] president, [GOP senate leader,] [GOP House leader,] and then to revise those themes in their own language and send them away.” – source, Pg. 170, Chapter 31, Controlling the Information Flow, Part 3: The Letters Page from, “If It’s Not Close They Can’t Cheat – Crushing the Democrats In Every Election And Why Your Life Depends On It” by Hugh Hewitt, Thomas Nelson Publishing, Nashville, TN., 2004.

    DCSCA (9d1bb3)

  77. DCSCA, do you understand why that’s grassroots?

    Hugh Hewitt is telling folks to write their own views and send them in, keeping it short and sweet, and oh would you please say Republican stuff (that the author of the letter can pick on his own and articulate on his own). That’s the right way to do it.

    The wrong way is to lie lie lie lie, which I supposed you would call the ‘left’ way to do it, or the ellie way to do it. I have no idea if the massive Ellie lying was purchased by this group Winston followed, but it’s obvious Ellie’s author (if it’s winston or not) was a total scumbag liar with great consistency, crowding out the opinions of at least 60 other citizens who were honest.

    You find Hewitt’s advice amusing. Why? It’s in a book by a private citizen to other private citizens urging honest dialogue in the most wholesome manner. I don’t think there’s any parity here. Maybe you think it’s amusing because there’s no way it can compete with the democrat machine?

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  78. […] if the Chillicothe Gazette and the Green Bay Press Gazette have addressed the story, can the New York Times, ABC, CBS, and the […]

    Media Came Down Hard on Pro-Iraq War ‘Ellie Light’-like Tactic in 2003 | TheWorldPolitics (197be1)

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