IRREGULAR TIMESThe Republican Party Platform Plank #63:
Endorse Plagiarism.

In February of 2003, operatives for the Republican National Committee used their website to plant identical letters to the editor across the country. The carbon-copy letters were each signed by a different person, creating the impression that "plain folks" came up with the pro-Bush sentiments contained therein. After good investigative work by the Boston Globe, a bunch of bloggers and the exhaustive documentation of Failure Is Impossible, the truth came out: the Republican Party was actively encouraging its members to cut and paste the pre-written text, add their name, call it theirs, and send it in to the papers to be printed.

The Republican party called this an "instant grassroots" campaign. But after catching word, the American public came up with another name for the practice: Astroturf, or fake grassroots. In my university days, the professors called this plagiarism, and you could get kicked out of school for it. In high school, they used a smaller, more direct words for this kind of tactic: lying and cheating. In courts, they call this fraud.

You'd think that, having been caught in their astroturfing, plagiarizing, cheating scheme, the Republican party would have disavowed the practice and promised never to do it again. After all, George W. Bush promised that his party would be the party of Honor and Integrity, right? Right?

Wrong. Three months later, now that the furor's died down and they think nobody is watching, the Republican party is at it again. The following letter appears on their "Team Leader" website:


Creating jobs and fostering economic growth needs to be our number one national priority. President Bush recognizes this and has delivered a jobs and growth plan that will create 1.4 million new jobs in the next two years. Some in Congress want to reduce or cut President Bush's plan and in so doing, reduce the number of jobs created. That's hundreds of thousands of jobs fewer than the 1 million jobs the stimulus package passed by the House of Representatives would create.

12 Senate Democrats understood the important impact tax relief has on growing our economy when President Bush's tax relief was passed into law. Why are Senate Democrats ignoring their previous support for tax relief and its economic impact? They should vote with President Bush and give the economy the boost it needs. It's the right thing to do to grow the economy.

Right below this text is a space for you to write in your name. Right above this text is a menu for you to select a local newspaper to send it to.

What's the result? Let's consult four examples of the impact of Republican Astroturfing on newspapers: the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Glasgow, Kentucky Daily Times, the Las Cruces, New Mexico Sun-News and the Gallatin, Tennessee News Examiner. On May 8, May 7, May 6 and May 5, respectively, the following letters to the editor appeared on their pages:


San Diego Union-Tribune, May 8 2003

Creating jobs and fostering economic growth need to be our number one national priority. President Bush recognizes this and has delivered a jobs and growth plan that will create 1.4 million new jobs in the next two years. Some in Congress want to reduce or cut President Bush's plan and in so doing, reduce the number of jobs created.

Twelve Senate Democrats understood the important impact tax relief has on growing our economy when President Bush's tax relief was passed into law. Why are they now ignoring their previous support for tax relief and its economic impact? They should vote with President Bush and give the economy the boost it needs.

Steven Zasueta

Chula Vista

Glasgow Daily Times, May 7 2003

Creating jobs and fostering economic growth needs to be our number one national priority. President Bush recognizes this and has delivered a jobs and growth plan that will create 1.4 million new jobs in the next two years. Some in Congress want to reduce or cut President Bush's plan and in so doing, reduce the number of jobs created. That's hundreds of thousands of jobs fewer than the 1 million jobs the stimulus package passed by the House of Representatives would create.

12 Senate Democrats understood the important impact tax relief has on growing our economy when President Bush's tax relief was passed into law. Why are Senate Democrats ignoring their previous support for tax relief and its economic impact? They should vote with President Bush and give the economy the boost it needs. It's the right thing to do to grow the economy.

Gregg Stratton

Frankfort, KY


The Gallatin News Examiner, May 5 2003

Creating jobs and fostering economic growth needs to be our number one national priority. President Bush recognizes this and has delivered jobs and growth plan that will create 1.4 million new jobs in the next two years. Some in Congress want to reduce or cut President Bush's plan and in so doing, reduce the number of jobs created. That's hundreds of thousands of jobs fewer than the 1 million jobs the stimulus package passed by the House of Representatives would create.

Twelve Senate Democrats understood the important impact tax relief has on growing our economy when President Bushs tax relief was passed into law. Why are Senate Democrats ignoring their previous support for tax relief and its economic impact? They should vote with President Bush and give the economy the boost it needs. It's the right thing to do to grow the economy.

Sincerely,

Charley Brandon

Kingsport, Tenn.


Las Cruces Sun-News, May 6 2003

Here in New Mexico we are aware that creating jobs and fostering economic growth needs to be our number one priority, and across our country as well. President Bush recognizes this and has delivered a jobs and growth plan that will create 1.4 million new jobs in the next two years. Some in Congress want to reduce or cut President Bush's plan and in so doing, reduce the number of jobs created. That's hundreds of thousands of jobs fewer than the 1 million jobs the stimulus package passed by the House of Representatives would create. Twelve Senate Democrats understood the important impact tax relief has on growing our economy when President Bush's tax relief was passed into law. Why are Senate Democrats ignoring their previous support for tax relief and its economic impact? They should vote with President Bush and give the economy the boost it needs. It's the right thing to do to grow the economy.

G.K. Strawn

Las Cruces

Well, at least "G.K. Strawn" bothered to add "Here in New Mexico," although of course the letter was not written in New Mexico at all.

Identical letters have appeared in the Anchorage Daily News (May 12, 2003, "written" by Mike Fouts), the San Francisco Chronicle (May 9, 2003, "written" by Joyce Lemmon), USA TODAY (May 7, 2003, "written" by David Johnson), the Huntsville Times (May 12, 2003, "written" by Corey O'Connor), the Kalamazoo Gazette (May 13, 2003, "written" by Norman Root), Time Magazine (the May 26, 2003 issue, "written" by Thomas J. Stokes) and Pakistan Link (May 16, 2003, "written" by Belen Barata).

In my day job, I teach undergraduates at a local university. When I catch students engaged in schemes like this, my university's code of honor requires that they be held accountable. When I confront students, they usually come up with an interesting excuse. A favorite of students' is "we took notes together, so of course there are some similarities. But we would NEVER copy each other - honest!". When that doesn't work, they usually blame the other party. These excuses are brazen attempts to get away with having done something dishonorable.

In this case, however, Republican Party officials aren't even bothering to deny what they're doing. As a matter of fact, Republican National Committee Chair Marc Racicot wrote me an e-mail himself soliciting my participation in the effort. On the website where people go to send plagiarized copies of letters to the editor, the operation is described as "now being fully integrated in to the RNC's grassroots network, with the full support of state and local parties." The full support of state and local parties.

So let's review. With the full backing of the Chair of the Republican National Committee, with the full support of state and local Republican parties, and after having been publicly confronted with the problem, Republican party operatives continue to endorse plagiarism in public discourse.

"Honor and Integrity?" I see none here.


Afterword: Journalistic ethics in practice

Letters to the editors of each of these newspapers have been written alerting them to the problem. I know, because I have written them. A typical letter to the editor follows:


To the Kalamazoo Gazette:

Dear Editor, On May 13, a letter was published in the Kalamazoo Gazette promoting George W. Bush's tax cut for the rich. This letter, which Norman Root claimed to have written, was not written by Norman Root. It was written by the Republican National Committee, which has sent these letters under various names to newspapers across the nation. This fraudulent tactic is called "astroturf" because it creates the appearance of a false grassroots support for the President's policies even when that support may not actually exist. Your readers deserve to know that they have been targeted by unethical Republican operatives. In the face of this problem, I hope that the Gazette demonstrates the courage and vision to publish this letter and publicly repudiate plagiarism in public discourse.

How have the various newspapers reacted? Let's start first with the most honorable responses, and move on to the not-so-honorable responses:

Still in a Grace Period

I'm giving the Kalamazoo Gazette and Pakistan Link a few days to respond before they are classified...

Honorable Responses

No Responses - No Published Acknowledgement


And finally, the sole entrant in the "Downright Dishonorable" category...

Downright Dishonorable

What are the editors of these newspapers trying to hide? Are they ashamed that they have been scammed? Do they not see the ethical problem? Or do their conservative politics mandate that they overlook this little problem?

Only the newspapers themselves can answer those questions. But in their continuing refusal to even entertain the questions, much less acknowledge the problem, they obfuscate -- which is exactly the opposite of what a news organization should be trying to do.

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