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President Obama Supports OFA Astroturf Campaign (with Bonus Plagiarism)

John on March 18, 2010 at 9:42 am

Organizing for America (formerly Organizing for Obama) has a Health Reform Action page which encourages members to write a letter to the editor. After typing in your zip code you get a list of local news outlets with radio buttons you can click:

The next page gives you a large comment box to compose your letter and, in the sidebar, a list of five suggested talking points:

Lest you think this is some minor effort, Barack Obama himself put out the call for people to use this tool on his Facebook page:

Despite the warning on the OFA site, letters containing these exact talking points are now appearing in newspapers across the country. The line about the new study appears in letters sent to the following papers:

As a sidebar, this talking point did not even originate with OFA. It appears to originate in a USA Today story by John Fritze dated February 4th, that’s six days before Obama’s Facebook posting. Fritze’s article reads:

…health care spending rose to an estimated $2.5 trillion in 2009, or $8,047 per person, according to the report. That number will grow to $4.5 trillion in 2019…

Organizing for America offers this nearly identical version…

…health care spending rose to an estimated $2.5 trillion in 2009, or $8,047 per person—and is now projected to nearly double by 2019.

OFA doesn’t credit Fritze anywhere on the site. So not only have they plagiarized the line themselves but, as you can see from the list above, OFA also helped more than three dozen supporters plagiarize it as well. Who is responsible? Well, here is a letter/press release on OFA letterhead with all of these talking points signed by OFA Director Mitch Stewart. It is dated just a couple days after John Fritze’s article.

Moving right along and without repeating any news outlets or individual letters, talking point two appears at:

And point three, the one about kicking this down the road:

Talking point four (again, no duplicates):

I could keep going but you get the point. By my count, that’s 72 local papers in all that were duped into publishing OFA talking points (some more than once).

This campaign, organized by the Director of OFA and promoted by the President himself, is a clear case of Astroturfing (fake grassroots). That would be bad enough, but the fact that the most popular talking point appears to have been plagiarized makes it even more shocking.

As I recall, a few months ago there was a lot of talk about Republican nihilism, i.e. that the right would stop at nothing to win. In light of this nationwide effort by OFA, I think we can now ask the corollary: Is there any level to which the President and his supporters won’t stoop for a win?

[This post is cross-posted at Big Journalism and Big Government today]

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