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Turning the Tables on Organizing for America (aka Fun with Astroturf)

John on April 13, 2010 at 6:41 am

Three weeks ago I noted the President’s support for an Organizing for America letter writing campaign for health reform. This involved a web form and a few talking points which at least 72 papers around the country were fooled into reprinting as letters to the editor.

Sunday I received notice of a follow up campaign by OFA, this time promoted by Vice President Biden. He writes in part:

Believe me, senators and their staff read the letters page — because they know just how influential it can be. Your letter could make a tremendous difference….

It’s just the first step, but one letter from a constituent is worth a hundred paid advertisements. So please make sure your friends and neighbors understand the benefits this law will bring to ordinary Americans — take three minutes and write a paragraph or two now:


Vice President Joe Biden

While this campaign may be new, the talking points that appear in the sidebar of the OFA website are not. They appear in this March 24 e-mail sent out by the President.

The next day OFA put out a message indicating that showing support for reform was their top priority. That is presumably what led to this current letter writing campaign.

So far, the following newspapers have published some or all of the White House talking points as letters to the editor:

It’s impossible to disguise this kind of campaign for long. I spoke with an editor at the Baltimore Sun who received 59 OFA generated letters between midnight Sunday and noon Monday! That’s on top of the dozens he received Sunday afternoon. Since he can’t devote the time it would take to separate the genuine letters from the talking points, the Sun is simply forced to ignore them.

While I’m pleased that the campaign is backfiring at the Sun, I suspect some of the smaller, local papers will be fooled into publishing White House talking points once again. Personally, I don’t believe the editors at these papers want to be part of the White House message machine. If only there was some way to warn them. Hmmm

Sunday afternoon I decided to turn the tables. I used OFA’s website to mail the following letter to 118 local papers around the country:

Subject: The White House is Using Your Letters Page for Free Advertising
Message: I received an e-mail from Vice President Biden today asking me to use this web page to generate letters to the editor:

The form is sponsored by Organizing for America, a political effort of the Obama White House. Along with the form there are suggested talking points:

# Passing health reform is a historic victory for all Americans – for families, seniors, young people…

[Etc., etc., etc.]

The e-mail from the Vice President said in part “letter from a constituent is worth a hundred paid advertisements.” Just thought you should know that the White House is trying to use your letters page as free advertising.

John Sexton

I think that’s called being hoist on your own petard, but I prefer to call it fun with Astroturf.

Related: The OC Register’s editors know Astroturf when they see it:

Editor’s note: The Register recently received a large influx of letters from a political action Web site that weighed in on behalf of the new health care law. The sampling of letters we are publishing below form this political letters campaign provides insight into health care proponents’ thinking, but are not representative of Register letter writer’s predominant view to date.

Maybe someone tipped them off ;-]

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Category: MSM & Bias, Politics |

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