Democrats Turn Letters to Editor into Talking Points Repository, Media Mostly Silent

January 25th, 2010 2:09 PM

If Ellie Light is indeed a Democratic operative, she is only the proverbial tip of the party's astroturfing iceberg. Patterico's investigative work, which was also at the forefront of the blogosphere's efforts to expose Light, have revealed an even greater effort at manufacturing the appearance of public support for Democratic policies.

Organizing for America and the Democratic Party each have forms on their websites for supporters to write letters to the editors of their local papers. Both have suggested "talking points" next to the submission form. Both advise supporters to use their own words, but talking points from both of the sites have appeared in letters to the editor in a multitude of newspapers nationwide.

"Our system works better for the insurance companies that [sic] it does for the American people. Tens of millions of Americans have no health insurance, living one accident away from total financial disaster." That exact quote, a suggested talking point at OFA's website, has appeared--typo and all--in the San Marcos Daily Record, the Berkeley Daily Planet, the Petersburg Progress-Index, and the Madison Capitol Times. A version with the typo corrected appeared in the Huntsville Times.

At the Democratic Party's website, readers find these talking points:

On Saturday, Nov. 7, a bipartisan majority of the House of Representatives made history by passing H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act.

After nearly a century of false starts, this was the first time a chamber of Congress has ever passed comprehensive health insurance reform. This is a historic accomplishment.

Representatives who voted for this bill deserve thanks for resisting tremendous pressure from the insurance industry lobbyists and standing up for their constituents.

Those who did not vote for the bill have one last opportunity to reconsider and support reform in the upcoming final House vote — and they should do so.

A vote for this bill was a vote to provide secure and stable coverage for Americans with insurance, expand coverage for those who do not have insurance, lower costs for families and businesses, and begin to reduce the deficit.

Those words appeared--verbatim or close to it--in at least 14 different newspapers, as documented by Patterico, despite the DNC's insistence that supporters "not use these points verbatim."

In fairness, the GOP also has suggested talking points for letters to the editor on its website. But this blogger has only been able to turn up one verbatim use of the suggested language in a newspaper (the Bay City Times of Michigan).

In 2003, William Klein accused the Republican Party in the Chritian Science Monitor of "abusing news ethics" for doing the exact same thing OFA and the Democrats are doing now. "The letters column is supposed to be a breath of fresh air, an open and genuine discussion that reflects the community's views," he added, and concluded that "We shouldn't let our views, and the places we express them, be so cravenly manipulated. Keep off the AstroTurf, and let the sun shine in!"

The New York Times featured a prominent story on the practices by the GOP. The controversy also got coverage on CNN, according to a Nexis search. We will see if these efforts at astroturfing get comparable coverage.

Given these prior reactions to such practices by Republicans, we are left only to believe that if letters began sprouting up across the country parroting Republican talking points, the story would be larger than Ellie Light, and might even be worth the mainstream media's time.