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Not very clever, are they?
October 10, 2003 11:44 PM   Subscribe

"We entered the country at midnight on March 26..." Isn't a bit odd how these letters -- all with different signatures at the bottom -- are identical? Pfc. David Deaconson and Spc. Nathan Whitelatch, for example, don't just seem to have the same writing style, they have the same writing! It would seem that at least some parts of the US government still don't quite get the internet. Is this kind of letters-to-the-editor war propaganda standard operating procedure?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken (37 comments total)

 
And then there's PFC Adam C. Connell. Whitelach also happens to be from a Connellsville. Pretty sloppy.
posted by shoos at 12:04 AM on October 11, 2003


mmmkay. at first i was thinking, maybe this is some kind of mix-up. truly odd. Best thing I can think is some PR arm of the defense department typed up some letters, had the soldiers sign and mailed them for them. I would hope that they were actually signed. I know politicians and busy businessmen do this, but there's something wrong about this 'heartfelt' letter to the folks at home being mass produced that just doesn't sit right.
btw, how did you come across this, or do you just read letters to the editor from every paper in the US ;)
posted by efalk at 12:07 AM on October 11, 2003


They've even got a picture here of one of the letter writers.
posted by shoos at 12:11 AM on October 11, 2003


Dear Stavros,

This was a most telling find, and you should be commended for your ability to root out falsities whenever and wherever they exist. You enterered our hearts just before midnight on October 11 (23:44 to be precise) and proceeded to steal them.

Sincerely,

ex-PFC Winterbourne.
posted by The God Complex at 12:22 AM on October 11, 2003


Dear Stavros,

You are the standard by which all other men should be judged.

Sincerely,

Washington Irvin.
posted by The God Complex at 12:26 AM on October 11, 2003


btw, how did you come across this

Sorry, forgot to add the [via Sensible Erection]. (Not safe for work, even a little bit!)

You are the standard by which all other men should be judged.


That's what I keep telling the wife.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:28 AM on October 11, 2003


You're a pretty forgiving person, efalk.
posted by velacroix at 12:28 AM on October 11, 2003


Irvin, Irving, whatever.
posted by The God Complex at 12:30 AM on October 11, 2003


The same letter from many is surely suspicious.
It could be some DOD PR push.
Given he's donned his flight suit, so cynically ambitious,
there's probably one out there signed 'George W. Bush.'
posted by troybob at 12:31 AM on October 11, 2003


well, you never know. the whole thousand-monkeys-at-a-type-writer and all ;)
actually i felt like calling my local newspaper (the Oregonian) and pointing this out, but it's late. maybe tomorrow.
posted by efalk at 12:33 AM on October 11, 2003


By the by, all that was my way of doffing my cap and saying good job.
posted by The God Complex at 12:34 AM on October 11, 2003


btw, did I ever tell you guys about the time I parachuted from a C-17 onto a cold, muddy field in Northern Iraq with the 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment, otherwise known as the "Rock." ?
posted by efalk at 12:36 AM on October 11, 2003


From Sensible Erection:

A Gannett News Service search found identical letters from different soldiers with the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment, also known as ``The Rock,'' in 11 newspapers.

... Six soldiers reached by GNS directly or through their families said they agreed with the letter's thrust. But none of the soldiers said he wrote it, and one said he didn't even sign it. A seventh soldier didn't know about the letter until his father congratulated him for getting it published in the local newspaper in Beckley, W.Va.
posted by taz at 12:42 AM on October 11, 2003


I note that BoingBoing is trying to get the blogging community to do something similar, providing specific text for the opinion you're supposed to put in your blog: "Tell your friends. Re-blog this."

Hard to believe that Cory doesn't 'get the internet' any more than the press officer of the 503rd Airborne does, but that seems to be the case. In the age of Google, this technique can only make you look conniving and insincere, and makes anyone who parrots your copy look like a mindless dittohead. Don't do it, kids. Even if you agree with Cory—and I do—say so in your own words, not his.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 2:20 AM on October 11, 2003


If only there were some way to discuss BoingBoing postings over at BoingBoing. Because there isn't.
/still bitter.
posted by mecran01 at 5:46 AM on October 11, 2003


Hard to believe that Cory doesn't 'get the internet' any more than the press officer of the 503rd Airborne does, but that seems to be the case. In the age of Google, this technique can only make you look conniving and insincere, and makes anyone who parrots your copy look like a mindless dittohead. Don't do it, kids. Even if you agree with Cory—and I do—say so in your own words, not his.

First of all: you're wrong. The fact that 950,000 people sent comments to the FCC on the media consolidation docket is what moved the Senate to introduce measures to curb media consolidation. That the letters were substantively duplicative was irrelevant. Far more important was that the letters had ZIP codes associated with them, which lawmakers understand to mean consituents and voters. Asking everyone who wants to send an opinion in to a lawmaker or an administrative agency to research the issue in sufficient depth to write substantive, technically accurate comments is a nice idea, but as a practical matter, it's actually not a very good way to marshall a lot of collective action for a cause. Numbers count.

Second of all, the post on Boing Boing points you to the EFF Action Center, wherein you are invited to edit the text to reflect your opinion, and the Boing Boing post asks you to do the same: "a letter you can tweak and send in to the commissioners."
posted by doctorow at 6:28 AM on October 11, 2003


better link with some more details...
posted by machaus at 7:03 AM on October 11, 2003


Hard to believe that Cory doesn't 'get the internet' ...
posted by Slithy_Tove at 2:20 AM PST on October 11



First of all: you're wrong....
posted by [cory] doctorow at 6:28 AM PST on October 11



Hard to believe that Slithy_Tove doesn't 'get the internet'. :-)
posted by jpoulos at 7:37 AM on October 11, 2003


Cory, dude, I just read 'Down and Out' and '0wnz0red' last week, and they, er, r0xor. I was going to send you a breathless email, but since you're here and all...

[/offtopic fanboy]

posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:26 AM on October 11, 2003


I wonder if there is any connection with the public relations campaign that the white house propaganda machine is currently unleashing. Think this happened by chance?
posted by barrista at 8:37 AM on October 11, 2003


I couldn't find all the stories on-line, maybe someone here is better at finding archived news; but i remember reading about the Pentagon's new official propaganda office, soldiers being lambasted for writing critical news about the war, and ABC getting bitch slapped for it. Couple that with all the recent "The MEDIA isn't telling the true story about Iraq", and the Bush website's automatic letter-to-the-editor tool, and it smells a little off.
posted by CrazyJub at 9:05 AM on October 11, 2003


Hey, look—two more. [second one is google cache]
posted by oaf at 9:13 AM on October 11, 2003


We should all make a concerted effort to contact local newspapers and let them know about this deception. It is precisely this sort of strategy that is likely to firm up George W's popular support base, as they are much more likely to respond to warm anecdotal letters to the editor about cleaning up trash in the streets, than they are any glaring facts about the war's negative consequences.
posted by amauck at 9:34 AM on October 11, 2003


Not surprising really.

From Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory (Oxford University Press: New York, 1975):

The trick was to fill the page by saying nothing and to offer the maximum number of cliches. Bearing the brunt and keep smiling were as popular as in the pink. For some writers the form of the letter home was so rigid that no variation was allowed to violate it. R.E. Vernede reports on 'a rather nice boy in my platoon who writes a family letter daily always beginning

Dear Mum and Dad, and dear loving sisters Rosie, Letty, and our Gladys, --
I am very pleased to write you another welcome letter as this leaves me. Dear Mum and Dad and loving sisters, I hope you keeps the home fires burning. Not arf. The boys are ni the pink. Not arf. Dear Loving sisters Rosie, Letty, and our Gladys, keep merry and bright. Not arf.

It goes on like that for three pages," says Vernede, "absolutely fixed; and if he has to say anything definite, like acknowledging a parcel, he has to put in a separate letter -- not to interfere with the sacred order of things."
posted by ed at 9:43 AM on October 11, 2003


Dear Cory,

I am very pleased to write you another fanboy letter as this leaves me. Dear Cory, I hope you keep the home fires burning. Not arf. The boys are in the pink. Not arf. Dear Loving Cory, Cory, and our Cory, keep merry and bright. Not arf.

Bearing the brunt,

Ed
posted by ed at 9:52 AM on October 11, 2003


Hi, Tom!
posted by Space Coyote at 10:52 AM on October 11, 2003


>"Tell your friends. Re-blog this."

Writing to the editor of a newspaper through an astroturf effort has nothing in common with your right as a constituent to contact your elected representatives and bitch (or praise) about something.

Press does not equal government.
posted by skallas at 11:07 AM on October 11, 2003


When I see "re-blog this" I think of linking to this piece, or giving credit to the author. Exactly the opposite of the copy-and-paste letter to the editor campaign. Nice try at finding a parallel, but there just isn't one.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:26 AM on October 11, 2003


I have often heard people compare the "astroturf" identical letters-to-the-editor to mass mailings to politicians on behalf of groups like Planned Parenthood. As others here have pointed out, that isn't quite true.

If your senator receives dozens of identical letters and e-mails from concerned constituents, it is quite clear that a mass-mailing is in the works. However, the mailing can still be used to judge the mood and desires of the constituents. It gives a voice to those who might not otherwise be able to put together a good letter, but those people who sit down and write their own letters don't get cheated. If anything, it makes their unique letter stand out.

On the other hand, when dozens of people send identical letters to the editors of various publications across the country, only the very few people will be able to detect the mass-production. The average reader of one single paper is going to see the letter as the genuine work of the person who signed it. That is simply deceptive. And in this case, the the letter of person who sits down and carefully crafts a unique letter to the editor might get bumped in favor of the astroturf letter.
posted by kayjay at 11:55 AM on October 11, 2003


Hard to believe that Cory doesn't 'get the internet' any more than the press officer of the 503rd Airborne does

not really. my opinion of him steadily sinks over time. his ludicrous temper tantrums, endless self promotion, and recently, the removal of commenting from boingboing in a snit over being contradicted, well... (trails off with a snort...)
posted by quonsar at 12:51 PM on October 11, 2003


Every time I've sent a letter to an editor, they've telephoned me to confirm it. I wonder if the phone numbers for these letters was identical.
posted by dobbs at 3:17 PM on October 11, 2003


Every time I've sent a letter to an editor, they've telephoned me to confirm it. I wonder if the phone numbers for these letters was identical.
posted by hoborg at 3:27 PM on October 11, 2003


I can't believe no one's done that yet...
posted by hoborg at 3:27 PM on October 11, 2003


Thanks, Stavros!
posted by doctorow at 6:13 AM on October 12, 2003


I'd just like to point out that there are two distinct phenomena being conflated here: One is a petition-style letter, which can be signed by many people to show their communal support for its ideas - this was apparently what the soldiers involved were conned into believing they were signing. The other is astroturf, where many letters with identical content are sent, each signed by one person as though the letter was that person's own ideas.

Even within the genre of astroturf there's a distinction - those sent to a senator or representative asking for some kind of legislative action may each be signed individually, and are obvious to the recipient as a mass mailing, but the overall point is basically indistinguishable from a mass mailing. Astroturf sent as letters to the editors of newspapers, however, is the lowest form of BS, and deserves the loudest condemnation - especially in those situations where the signees are under duress, such as, oh, I don't know... soldiers!
posted by soyjoy at 6:46 PM on October 12, 2003


USA Today is running the same Gannett article now.
posted by shoos at 7:17 PM on October 12, 2003


Although [Shawn] Grueser said he agrees with the letter's sentiments, he was uncomfortable that a letter with his signature did not contain his own words. "It makes it look like you cheated on a test, and everybody got the same grade," Grueser said.

amen, Shawn, though i can't believe none of these soldiers is outraged. it's funny how some of them don't even care if they signed it!

another stunning display of the military mindset. give it up, boys. your time is almost over. bow out gracefully while you still can.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:43 AM on October 13, 2003


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