Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Astroturfing gone bad.
December 29, 2003 9:52 AM   Subscribe

Astroturfing gone bad. Why aren't newspaper editors fighting this? They've seen it before. Its one thing to offer a press release and another to ask visitors of the Bush-Cheney website to mail their newspapers the same form letter.
posted by skallas (35 comments total)

 
The Sierra Club has some strong opinions on this legislation.
posted by skallas at 9:55 AM on December 29, 2003


The only safe tree is a dead tree.

A healthy forest is clear cut stumpage with taxpayer financed roads through it.

Only godless terra loving commie Islamists want to keep timber harvesting companies out of old growth forests.

Saving trees makes you a Bush-hater!

"Bring it on! The sooner Armageddon gets here the better. That's why I don't worry about the future for me or my children. I feel confident there ain't gonna be a future. " -misattributed to GWB

Feel free to use the above quotes in your own astroturf letter to the local newspaper editor. Sorry I don't have an automated spam machine to fill in the email addresses for you.
posted by nofundy at 10:51 AM on December 29, 2003


Wow, skallas, wait a sec! Are you saying that the loyal minions of the Right should not fire off these letters in regimented lockstep? Dude, you are so... so... well, screw it, you're right but crap like this makes me laugh so that I don't cry.
posted by billsaysthis at 10:52 AM on December 29, 2003


Why aren't newspaper editors fighting this?

One guess: It provides well-written, controversial content for their editorial pages.

I don't take issue with the concept of astroturfing, I do wish that papers would recognize it and point it out when it happens. A simple editor's note ("This letter has appeared in several newspapers around the country, attributed to different authors") would suffice for me.
posted by jpoulos at 10:54 AM on December 29, 2003


Feel free to use the above quotes in your own astroturf letter to the local newspaper editor.

That's actually an excellent idea, in a Tyler Durden kind of way.
posted by jpoulos at 10:57 AM on December 29, 2003


I did a little modification to the letter - and sent a number of them off last week. If any of you middle of the roaders need a reason to not vote for bush - take a look at his assault on the environmentm and what kind of nation/world he wants to leave for your children ... a very ugly, dirty one indeed.
posted by specialk420 at 11:13 AM on December 29, 2003


jpoulos, how would you expect them to recognize the effort, especially the first few papers to print the letter? One would doubt they have the personpower to Google every letter to be printed...
posted by billsaysthis at 11:23 AM on December 29, 2003


I thought trees caused pollution?
posted by mcsweetie at 11:25 AM on December 29, 2003


> how would you expect them to recognize the effort

Doesn't seem that hard, afterall all these astroturfs are public. All they have to do is visit the biggest astroturfers every so often and print out their latest effort as "do not publish" or "put mass-mail disclaimer on this."

Lets see, they can start with georgewbush.com and work their way down from there.
posted by skallas at 11:44 AM on December 29, 2003


I know the leftist tree-hugging forester (not sarcasm) who personally penned this legislation. He has explained it to me clause by clause and I actually know now what the legislation says and doesn't say. Someone gave him a Sierra Club calendar for Christmas, he was not amused. Apparently the Sierra Club forgot to read what he wrote in the actual piece and just assumed that if Bush signed it, it must be anti-forest. Needless to say I know at least one environmentalist who is sliding towards Bush and away from the "environmental lobby" because of this.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:57 AM on December 29, 2003


how would you expect them to recognize the effort

Google works wonders.

Doesn't require a large staff commitment either.

Just enter a key phrase and up pops the originating website.

Couldn't get easier or simpler! Lazy assed media whores!
posted by nofundy at 12:02 PM on December 29, 2003


Re billsaysthis, above: it doesn't take a great deal of effort to note the stylistic qualities of PRspeak, contrasted to the wider variety of letters actually generated by newspaper readers. Any English teacher can do it, and there are probably a hundred thousand unemployed Ph.D.s available for duty at copy readers' salaries.

Another instance of how those working in print media don't get the internet--probably never occurred to the editor of the Hattiesburg, MS American to look on Google or to object to astroturf on principle. Actually, as there aren't that many newspapers which turn up in a Google search for the opening phrase, maybe the newspaper editors are doing a better job with this than we thought. I only turned up four more.

Here's another one, from Dennis Minner of Poplar Bluff, MO. . . . Consider the source

"Just wanted to say CONGRATS on the Carman show tonight! It was an awesome show...I will say I was disappointed with him not doing Champion or Radically Saved. I wanted to cry haha. But wow, the Holy Spirit was totally in the BRC!" - Dennis Minner, Poplar Bluff, MO

This can be addictive: if you check other phrases via Google, you get other hits:
Las Vegas Review Journal, which is individualized a bit with this closing 'graph, courtesy of Kevin Manix:
Thank God, Albert Arnold Gore Jr. is not president because we know he would never cut down a dead tree. He would rather imitate a tree, and cut down his friends (snubbing his former running mate, Joe Lieberman).

Chad Snader of Dover, Delaware, opines pretty much verbatim from the GOP site.

Patricia Humbert of Wilmington, NC eschews paragraphs in her version in the Topsail Voice.

On preview, what nofundy said. (Does that equate to "Ditto"?)
posted by palancik at 12:04 PM on December 29, 2003


Ever read the business page of any newspaper and compared the "articles" to corporate press releases. 99% identical and that goes for the WSJ, NYT or the Hattiesburg American.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:15 PM on December 29, 2003


I actually know now what the legislation says and doesn't say.

well then mr.mancho.... please explain how this legislation is good for us and our forests ....??? and not just loggers and the timber industry?
posted by specialk420 at 12:22 PM on December 29, 2003


This is the internet, right? We're in a soup of information, right? Why don't we just read the legislation (H.R. 1904, 108th Congress) for ourselves? Then we'll know what it says.
posted by hattifattener at 1:00 PM on December 29, 2003


The legislation permits the clearing of low level brush in new growth forests, a practice which has not been carried out for several years while it has been studied. In ancient forests, unregulated fires cleared brush and fallen timber from the forest floor. Due to human encroachment into forest land, we now tend not to like fires to spread and thus brush builds up so that when it actually does burn it burns the whole forest down to the ground. So clearing brush is actually a good thing for the forest if you are not going to let it burn regularly, which homeowners tend not to like so much. So that's how its good for us and our forests. I'd say we don't let folks live in the woods in the first damn place, but they already do, so here's what we have to do to stop things like this year's massive wildfires that destroyed forests because of floor covering that hadn't been cleared in decades. So if the choice is clear the brush or clear it all through fire, I'd choose losing the brush personally.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:40 PM on December 29, 2003


These sorts of posts are great. It is terrible when Bush/Cheney does it ... but ok when the left does? On the same site where the Sierra Club broadcasts it's "strong opinions", there's also a convenient page that let's you send a letter (for instance) to the US Forest Service about Alaska. It doesn't even require you to copy it and mail anything - it is not only pre-written, it is even automated.

Greenpeace - who's been churning such things out for a long time - also automates the process for you.

Ah, but those aren't letters to the editor? Ok ... here's a great progressive website that provides everything ... because it recognizes "the importance of impacting community debate, the network supplies information packets for use in local newspapers, bulletin boards, radio talk shows, and public events. Each packet contains: a sample editorial for use in local newspapers, a sample letter to the editor, an information sheet for use on talk radio, and posters for use in classrooms or public spaces."

So ... it's baaaaaaaaaad when Bush does it, but goooooood when his opposition does? Or will you be just as critical of the same tactic? Should newspaper editors "fight" this?

Oh yes ... and so far as this goes ... please explain how this legislation is good for us and our forests ....??? and not just loggers and the timber industry? ... maybe a quote from Dianne Feinstein - the liberal California senator that supported and worked on the legislation (and is hardly known as being a strong supporter of the timber industry) might contribute to an answer:

"But Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who helped shape the final bill, disagrees with the environmentalists. She notes that at least half the $760 million a year that will go to fuel reduction will be used to thin out chaparral and brush near communities. The remainder will be available to thin out municipal watersheds or wildlife habitat or areas that have suffered from serious wind damage or insect infestations, such as the bark beetle.

The Healthy Forests Restoration Act is a "major step," said Feinstein, toward preventing future catastrophic fires like those that struck San Diego County. The federal dollars and the streamlined approval process for thinning projects should be welcomed."
posted by MidasMulligan at 1:45 PM on December 29, 2003


My point was that now, with several instances already published, this is obvious but if one were the Letters editor at the first publisher, not so easy. And as to how much effort is required, well, I think you might not be as precisely aware of current staffing levels as you think.
posted by billsaysthis at 1:45 PM on December 29, 2003


The enrolled version is the one that was sent to the President for signature.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:48 PM on December 29, 2003


take a look at his assault on the environmentm (sic) and what kind of nation/world he wants to leave for your children ... a very ugly, dirty one indeed.

I'm sure GWB and his cohorts are sitting around just dreaming up ways to dirty and ugly the world for the express purpose of making the children of Metafilter readers miserable.
posted by trharlan at 2:07 PM on December 29, 2003


midas: let's you send a letter (for instance) to the US Forest Service about Alaska

I would think theres an obvious difference between mailing your government which represents you compared to spamming major media outlets to push your views.

That's the difference, contacting your rep is hardly the same as abusing the letters to the editor part of the newspapers.

>greenepeace

"Enter your address information below and a letter to the trade ministers of Canada and Argentina"

Hmm, are trade ministers called newspapers in Canada, Midas?

Midas: So ... it's baaaaaaaaaad when Bush does it, but goooooood when his opposition does?

First off, where is anyone approving of this method when done by "the opposition" in this thread?

Find better examples and show them in various newspapers then we'll have something to talk about. Apples and oranges so far.
posted by skallas at 2:13 PM on December 29, 2003


First off, where is anyone approving of this method when done by "the opposition" in this thread?

Where is anyone disapproving of this method when done by the opposition? Are you saying that this was a thread about a tactic that newspaper editors should "fight", and it is just pure chance that Bush and Cheney happened to be the example you chose?

Apples and oranges so far.

Not really. The tactic is hardly new ... it has been around for years - and both the left and right have used it. (Plus, the Progressive Information Network link - which you seem to have ignored - contained not only sample editorials to send to local newspapers, but entire press packages for a variety of media). The Ruckus Society has an extremely sophisticated training program in how to make certain that the media covers their events in particular ways (it goes way beyond a simple website with a sample editorial).

But the issue is not whether a particular campaign is successful or not - it is the tactic that is the issue here ... and I happen to agree by the way ... I don't like the tactic when anyone - left or right - does it. I don't care whether it is editorial pages, or submissions to government agencies. The reason why letters to either the press or the government have any meaning is because they appear to be the personal opinion of either local readers (in the case of the press) or private citizens (in the case of the government).

If large numbers of the letters to the editor, or to the government agencies, came to be composed of ghost-written text from organizations or groups (who are virtually never identified as the source in the letters themselves), the meaning of those letters would change - and their impact would be diminished.

I have no problem with Bush, or the Sierra Club, or anyone else, encouraging their constituents to write letters on a particular topic ... but to encourage them to send pre-written text under their own name - as though they wrote it (which is what one's signature implies) is to encourage what can only be called deception.
posted by MidasMulligan at 3:37 PM on December 29, 2003


As an ecologist and environmental scientist, I'll step out on a limb and confirm that what Pollomacho says is right - build up of understorey growth in previously fire-dominated ecosystems is a problem both for the ecology of the forests and the safety of nearby humans. However - can you confirm that's all the legislation allows for?
posted by Jimbob at 3:53 PM on December 29, 2003


>just pure chance that Bush and Cheney happened to be the example you chose?

Midas, they were the ones caught. Again.

Oh my, the Ruckus society has a media kit! Apples and Oranges, son.
posted by skallas at 3:58 PM on December 29, 2003


Oh my, the Ruckus society has a media kit! Apples and Oranges, son.

Ahhh ... so when Bush/Cheney put up a letter, on a single issue, for their supporters to send to editors, they are the ones that are "caught" (oh my, Bush and Cheney have political views!), but when Ruckus produces extensive traning materials focussed on helping leftist activists use newspapers, radio, and television to further their ends ... they haven't been "caught" doing anything? Interesting.

And I'll bet only those leaning in one extreme direction would see it as "apples and oranges", son.

Do you want a genuine discussion about a questionable tactic that is used by both the left and the right, or is this just a Bush=Evil PreachingToTheChoir thread? (If it's the former, it is great topic IMO ... if it's the latter, just let me know and I'll keep quiet.)
posted by MidasMulligan at 4:15 PM on December 29, 2003


Automated form letters are a waste of time and effort for all of their automated "ease" of use. They're stupid and artificial.

Which pretty much sounds like the Bush administration come to think of it. No wonder the right-wing media is so eager to publish the phony pro-corporate myths that they float as though they're really coming from the minds of Limbaughnian Scholars. None of it exists. Nor does a Limbaugh listening, Bush voting scholar Therefore it must be made to make it appear as if they do.

Skallas is right midas. Turn your portrait of Dubya around so it's not facing you when you post maybe. That may help to elucidate some of the sheerly absurd moral inconsistencies of your "Dear Leader".

On preview:

See what I mean!

Do you want a genuine discussion about a questionable tactic that is used by both the left and the right, or is this just a Bush=Evil PreachingToTheChoir thread? (If it's the former, it is great topic IMO ... if it's the latter, just let me know and I'll keep quiet.)

Since when did you wingers get so damned passive aggressive?
posted by crasspastor at 4:25 PM on December 29, 2003


Thanks crasspastor - you answered my question.
posted by MidasMulligan at 4:52 PM on December 29, 2003


MidasMulligan, are you really going to defend the Bush-Cheney campaign by comparing them to the Ruckus Society? If it means anything to you, I'll be the first to say I think the Ruckus Society would do even a worse job than the Bush administration at running the country. You might see more liberals outraged at their tactics if they had any sort of influence at all in the workings of the government.

Anyway, I can't really work up any outrage over this stuff. Editorial staff would do their readers a service if they googled the phrasing in their letters and noted something along the lines of "this letter appears to be copied verbatim from the Sierra Club web site". But then, newspapers already do such a crappy job at fairly fundamental things like distinguishing between factual errors and differences of opinion, that I won't hold my breath waiting.
posted by electro at 6:12 PM on December 29, 2003


Nice to see you back, in any event :)
posted by electro at 6:15 PM on December 29, 2003


I think Midas is probably right -- it is a questionable tactic used by both sides.

The solution is probably much like what jpoulous suggested:

" I do wish that papers would recognize it and point it out when it happens. A simple editor's note ("This letter has appeared in several newspapers around the country, attributed to different authors") would suffice for me."

Even better would be if senders of the form letter would acknowledge something like "these talking points were taken from (insert website/article/crystal ball here)", but that relies on those using the questionable tactic to play fair. With journalism, you have professional standards to at least appeal to.
posted by namespan at 10:28 PM on December 29, 2003


Thanks crasspastor - you answered my question.

What? How insipid astroturfing is? I agree with you.

Why then is a sitting presidential administration allowing it to happen? Why are these letters being published verbatim?

I think there is a glaring difference between email campaigns done by the Sierra Club in light of scientific evidence versus an incumbent POTUS' re-election campaign despite the scientific evidence.

Surely you must draw the line too? Do you really support a campaign that not only endorses this tactic, but enables it? The Ruckus Society's website does not have quite the influence that The President of The United States' re-election campaign site does.

I'm curious as to how your ethical perimeters are drawn. In fact, curious as to how all Bush supporters' moral thresholds can be so whacked. Deception's deception's deception. You'll allow a president to do it so long as the Ruckus Society gets to as well? Them's the brakes you're saying? Should John Ashcroft shut down all deceivers websites? Or do we go along on our own, not knowing up from down until popular sentiment is decreed from FOX etc.?

Where, I'm asking', is the reponsibility in all of this? You've only said the "other side does it too" and "regardless of left or right, it's deception".

Well then?
posted by crasspastor at 10:59 PM on December 29, 2003


I think Midas is probably right -- it is a questionable tactic used by both sides.

Golly! Ya reckon?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:55 AM on December 30, 2003


I have no problem with Bush, or the Sierra Club, or anyone else, encouraging their constituents to write letters on a particular topic ... but to encourage them to send pre-written text under their own name - as though they wrote it (which is what one's signature implies) is to encourage what can only be called deception.

Dear God...I'm agreeing with MidasMulligan.

In other news, the world will explode in just under fifteen minutes.
posted by Vidiot at 6:47 AM on December 30, 2003


Ever read the business page of any newspaper and compared the "articles" to corporate press releases. 99% identical and that goes for the WSJ, NYT or the Hattiesburg American.

I call bullshit on you. Ninety-nine percent of articles are identical? Ninety-nine percent of some articles are identical?

There are definitely some rewritten press releases, no doubt about it, usually as blurbs--but 99 percent? Baloney.

That comes from an ex-journalist and someone who reads more news in a day than most people read in a month.
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:16 AM on December 30, 2003


As an ecologist and environmental scientist, I'll step out on a limb and confirm that what Pollomacho says is right - build up of understorey growth in previously fire-dominated ecosystems is a problem both for the ecology of the forests and the safety of nearby humans. However - can you confirm that's all the legislation allows for?

The big problem we have with it out here in Oregon is that it is yet another case of the government trying to tie together 'fuel reduction' with profit margins. The basic argument coming fromt he backers (read: timber industry lobbyists and friends; the "Healthy Forest Committee" is/was heavy with people from places like Weyerhauser) of the bill is that we need to clear out this dense growth, but that, if the timber industry is to do it, then there needs to be some profit associated with it. So in addition to doing us the favor of clearing out a bunch of burned forest, they'll also take a bunch of big, healthy, profitable trees to make it worth their time. This translates into killing more old growth and virgin stands, since the dense, previously-clearcut forest isn't really worth much.

To break it down even more clearly:
1) Timber companies do a bunch of clearcutting, weakening the forests and making them more susceptible to fire.
2) Massive wildfires break out in our national forests, striking fear into the hearts of the citizens.
3) Timber companies promise to fix the problems with these 'wild forests,' providing ideological cover for more old-growth logging and clear cutting, thereby continuing the cycle.
4) Profit!!!

Here in Oregon, we're seeing multiple generations of this strategy. In the 80's, some clear-cutting was allowed down int he Siskiyou in the name of fuel reduction. Last year, those clearcut areas burned black, while the surrounding virgin forest took some burning of the good variety. Now, in the name of fuels reduction, the Siskiyou is being threatened with one of the largest cuts in Oregon history, sure to make fuels reduction a problem all over again ten years from now.

It's a nice strategy, and, thanks to a common ignorance of forest issues, it often works.
posted by kaibutsu at 3:17 PM on December 30, 2003


« Older Scottish puzzle writer, poet, and soon to be autho...  |  The Saudi Paradox.... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments