Advocacy groups have increasingly labelled their opposition as "astroturf," or corporate-funded fake grassroots, groups in order to demean them and lessen the fact that both sides enjoy some measure of public support. Many of the organizations throwing around accusations of astroturfing, such as the Marxist net neutrality advocacy group Free Press and the liberal ThinkProgress not only engage in astroturf strategies, but are financially supported in ways they decry as astroturf. The media, unsurprisngly, has often chosen to ignore leftist astroturfing and focus on accusations of rightist astroturfing.
The Daily Caller reported Wednesday on a pro-neutrality letter circulated around Capitol Hill by Free Press which was a product of the same astroturfing tactics Free Press has decried.
The "signatories" of the letter had no recollection of the letter and had no idea they had signed it. One of the signatories, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation wrote to the Federal Communications Comission, The Hill reported, asking to be removed from the list of signatories. Tellingly, a Free Press spokeswoman suggested that they were pressured to do so. Presumably by the Satan-worshipping board of directors of some telecommunications company.
Mike Riggs, of The Daily Caller, wrote:
"Interestingly, groups like Free Press and NTEN like to publicly denounce letters with questionable signatories. In 2009, Ars Technica pointed to a letter that was supposedly authored by a group of senior citizens who supposedly had written Congress to oppose net neutrality. The group ‘forgot to strip out the "XYZ organization" and replace the text with its own name,' reports Ars Technica, which caught wind of the letter from Free Press. ‘It's unclear who was behind the letter, but it certainly looks like evidence of anti-neutrality forces rounding up an odd collection of allies on this issue,' wrote Ars' Matthew Lasar."
Free Press has shown a similar indifference to ethics in the past, with campaign director Timothy Karr quick to accuse anyone and everyone who opposes net neutrality of being a corporate tool, much of the time sans any sort of evidence, whatsoever. Michael Turk of Digital Society offered Karr $1,000 for proof that he was an astroturfer. One June 30, The Daily Caller reported that Free Press had outright lied regarding the FCC preventing them from attending closed-door meetings on net neutrality when they had, in fact attended. Similarly, they said they had been invited to attend a Congressional meeting on the issue and then told reporters they had been denied access.
The same Daily Caller story pointed out that Free Press is a member of the Open Internet Coalition, a pro-net neutrality group. Amazon, Google, eBay, PayPal, Twitter, Earthlink are members, as are several marketing firms. Not only that, but Free Press's own lobbying efforts are coordinated by a firm called the Glover Park Group, of which anti-net neutrality company Verizon is also a client.
Many of the accusations of astroturfing by telecommunications companies in other blogs and publications ultimately come from Free Press. When PBS' Media Shift experienced a large number of anti-net neutrality comments, Free Press campaign director Timothy Karr was quick to offer his expertise in throwing around astroturfing accusations for them.
Wrote Mark Glaser: "While I have seen a lot of evidence pointing toward certain individuals who post time and again against Net neutrality, I haven't found a ‘smoking gun' that proves without a doubt that this campaign is paid for by telecom companies."
So Free Press denounces certain tactics as astroturfing, but when they engage in them, it's grassroots advocacy.
That's a sharp contrast to the Tea Parties, which were heavily accused of being astroturf last year, by several media outlets. Wrote Julia A. Seymour of the Business & Media Institute: "ABC's Dan Harris repeated criticism from the left that the tea parties were ‘a product' of Fox News and lobbyist organizations." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been one of the more visible figures reitterating the charge.
Well, as long as Free Press provides the media with "information" and the corporate-funded liberal activists continue to be "grassroots," there won't need to be a smoking gun because any center-right organization will be astroturf.