Sunday, January 04, 2004

A Pox on Their "Vox"

Here comes news that the Republican National Committee has been caught faking "the voice of the people" by distributing form letters that operatives across the country put in their local newspapers as purportedly written by ordinary independent citizens.

This bogus manipulation of supposedly grassroots letters to the editor even has a nickname ... "Astro Turf."

The most recent example of Astro Turf was traced to a website operated by the Republican National Committee. A rah-rah letter composed at HDQ in Washington ended up being printed in some 75 different newspapers across the country. All 75 different fake letters began with the same line: "When it comes to the economy, President George Bush is demonstrating genuine leadership." (Read the article exposing this abuse in the Christian Science Monitor by clicking here.)

Alert observers of the local scene will recall that we had our own form of Astro Turf in the recent Boone Town Council elections, when a fake letter from "Bryce Geller," claiming to be a Watauga County Democrat, appeared in the Mountain Times. The non-existent Geller endorsed (and attempted to wound) candidates Mason, Spann, and Duke by couching his endorsement in bigoted language and prejudicial attitudes (attacking "natives" as idiots, for example).

"Bryce Geller" was later found to be untraceable and presumably a wraith of local spite meant to sway an election. The "Geller" letter wasn't so much a case of "Astro Turf" as a case of fraud.

But there's enough similarity here to provoke the question: Where would such a technique have been learned, do you think? Where was such fakery and meanness being promoted to a national audience?

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