Imperfect - Mass GOP Form Letters to Editors Exposed
|This bit of GOP mischief got
newspaper editors around the nation on their toes. The practice was soon
stopped - GW
Are you a conservative? Want to win a free cooler or a mousepad? Just copy and paste a form letter praising Republican policies from GOPteamleader.com, a Web site put up by the Republican National Committee, sign them as your own and e-mail them to your local papers. Even though the newspapers you contact will not be amused if they discover they have unwittingly run a political press release, the GOP will reward you for it anyway.
These deceptive letters are known as "astroturf," implying
artificial grassroots support for a politician, a party or an issue.
Recently, the Republicans were caught at it when a Boston Globe reader,
Amity Wilczek, discovered that the Globe had been used for partisan ends
without its knowledge-it ran a GOP form letter expressing strong support
for President Bush's tax cut, signed by Stephanie Johnson of Milton,
Mass., on Sept. 12-and notified the paper. The Globe then learned it had
published four such letters since mid-October, and that dozens of
dailies around the nation had received identical or very similar
letters. Editors at the Globe were displeased when they realized they
had been snookered, and have since received more than 40 of the e-mails.
Howard Healy, who handles letters to the editor at the Times Union, said in a recent phone conversation that about six of the GOP e-mails had shown up in the Times Union's editorial inbox. "It's not uncommon," Healy explained in reference to political form letters, citing similar write-in campaigns to the Times Union in the past by the Public Employees Federation over the issue of weekday parking in downtown Albany, and by a vegetarian group against eating meat. He went on to say that the use of computers has greatly facilitated the mass dissemination of such letters, and that many newspapers are now alerting each other to them.
Reached by e-mail for comment on the Republican National Committee form letters, Catherine Mathis, vice president of corporate communications for the New York Times Company, wrote, "We would not knowingly print a letter that was part of this sort of campaign, and since we get hundreds of letters every day, we certainly have no need to. Our goals are to present a variety of views on different topics that are genuinely written by the signees. The editors in the Letters section call every person whose letter we want to print, and check the accuracy of their statements. There is no foolproof way to make sure the product of a political letter-writing campaign doesn't slip through, but we do our best to make sure they don't."
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