Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dear Editor

Behind the scenes at the McCain campaign, a “volunteer” ghost-writes letters to the editor to support their candidate:

The assignment is simple: We are going to write letters to the editor and we are allowed to make up whatever we want — as long as it adds to the campaign. After today we are supposed to use our free moments at home to create a flow of fictional fan mail for McCain. “Your letters,” says Phil Tuchman, “will be sent to our campaign offices in battle states. Ohio. Pennsylvania. Virginia. New Hampshire. There we’ll place them in local newspapers.”

Place them? I may be wrong, but I thought that in the USA only a newspaper’s editors decided that.

“We will show your letters to our supporters in those states,” explains Phil. “If they say: ‘Yeah, he/she is right!’ then we ask them to sign your letter. And then we send that letter to the local newspaper. That’s how we send dozens of letters at once.”

No newspaper can refuse a stream of articulate expressions of support, is the thought behind it. “This way, we will always get into some letters column.”

This is known as “Astroturfing,” as opposed to a legitimate “grassroots” effort on the part of voters to support their candidate. It was a practice perfected by the Christian Coalition back in the 1980’s when they wanted to gin up local support for their agenda. And lest you think it’s limited to letters to the editor, I get the occasional Astroturf comment here; I can tell because I see the exact same comment at other blogs signed with different names. I routinely delete them no matter who they come from; if they want to use me as a shill for their campaign, they can do it the old-fashioned way: pay me for it. (Just kidding; I don’t do paid political ads.)