IRREGULAR TIMESUsing the Devil's Tools: How to Stop Republican Plagiarism in Seven Easy Steps

Over at the Republican National Committee's website, they're firing up the astroturf engines again.

The RNC, headed by Marc Racicot, has over and over again encouraged its rank and file to take RNC-written statements, sign their names to them, pretend they wrote them and submit them as original letters to the editor. Shamefully, a number of newspapers have published this dreck -- and when they've been told about the problem, they have refused to let their readers know about the problem (see The Boston Globe for a notable exception).

Here's the text of the Republican National Committee's latest canned letter:

"Because of President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, our schools are already receiving additional resources and historic levels of federal funding to ensure that students succeed, and more positive changes are on the way.

Recently, the President announced that every state had put in a place an accountability plan to ensure that all schools makes progress. As part of these plans and the No Child Left Behind Act's strong accountability provisions, school districts will be required to test students and give parents annual report cards. Schools that don't make progress will offer their students additional services, such as free tutoring, and parents will be given new options.

Through these new reforms, we have a real chance to ensure that every child receives a quality education, and President Bush deserves enormous credit for focusing our nation's attention on this challenge."

Aw. How sweet that the Republican National Committee thinks its own leader "deserves enormous credit." How sour that the RNC wants to pawn its puff piece off on the American people by making it appear that everyday people are the ones writing it.

This message, and the Republican Party's request that people plagiarize it in letters to the editor, has just been posted as of June 13, 2003. That means, dear friends, that there is still time for those of us who are sickened by Republican Astroturf to combat this instance of plagiarism. Because some newspapers and magazines won't take the steps to stop this abusive Republican practice themselves, we need to hold their hands and help them do the right thing.

Here's what you can do in seven easy steps:

  1. Register at GOP Team Leader, the aforementioned Republican National Committee website.
  2. Log in, and click on the "Look Up/Write" link right after "My Newspapers" in the lower right-hand corner.
  3. Now look on the left-hand side of the screen. There should be a drop-down menu under the words "Action Center" entitled "Choose...". Select "Print and TV."
  4. Enter your Zip Code and press "Go."
  5. A menu appears on which you can select newspaper, TV and Internet news sources. Select up to five, as the handy instructions say. Then click the "Compose Message" button at the bottom.
  6. Choose the letter option that ISN'T "Compose Your Own Message." This month, that means you should select "I Support The President's Education Act." Then click "Next Step."
  7. Well, LOOKY! There's that plagiarized text, ready to send to five media outlets with YOUR name on it! The Republican National Committee wants you to plagiarize. But you can use the tools of evil for the forces of good, my friend. Take that text, and insert right above it a big notice (occasional uppercase words help so the editor doesn't miss what you're doing) that politely lets the editor know the letter is plagiarized astroturf, and warning the editor not to publish it or other copies of it that are coming the editor's way.

And that's it! Now you've done your part to shut the Republican Astroturf machine down and restore integrity to the journalistic enterprise in your neck of the woods. Doesn't that make you feel good?

If we can catch these messages early in the process, we won't have to see them in print. If everyone does their part, together we can stop the Republican Party's campaign of dirty tricks.

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Astroturf Update:
The Boston Herald was the first in the nation to fall victim to this latest episode of unethical Republican Astroturf, publishing the letter verbatim< in its June 16 letters to the editor, and signed by Marianne S. Palmer.

The newspapers say they've got a fancy system by which Astroturf alerts are shared. It's funny, then, that this happened, since we at Irregular Times notified at least five papers (two of them relatively large) of the problem by June 13. We have received word from readers that all the newspapers in Kansas and Illinois have been covered too... this should have activated that fancy system, shouldn't it? Well, perhaps it takes some time for word to get around.

A reader has let us know that the Hopewell Valley News in New Jersey published this astroturf, with authorship falsely attributed to a Mr. Castelize. We've verified this, and encourage you to write a letter to the editor of the Hopewell Valey News pointing out the problem and asking them to publicly acknowledge it.

The reader who let us know about this instance wrote in to the Hopewell Valley News with a very polite letter asking for the error to be publicly corrected. The "professional" response follows verbatim: " there WAS NO WAY OF KNOWING THIS. wE ASK SIMPLY FOR ADDRESS AND PHONE NO. I AM SURE THAT DURING CAMPAIGNS WE GET LETTERS WRITTEN BY OTHERS. iN FACT I KNOW WE DO, tHERE ARE OFTEN GHOST WRITERS WHO GET OTHERS IN THE TOWN TO PLACE THEIR NAMES AT THE BOTTOM. wE JUST HAVE TO BE SURE THE PERSON EXISTS.

Please, please write a letter to the editor and let him know that there was indeed an easy "way of knowing this." This very webpage, with the quoted text from the Astroturf, was already indexed on search engines as of June 15, four days before the letter was published. A simple Google search would have done the trick. It seems the editor not only needs his or her own copy editor, but also a few tips on checking sources.

The letter also appears in the June 17 letters to the editor of the Honolulu Advertiser in Hawaii. Authorship is falsely attributed to a Mr. Montalvan.

WHOOPSIE! Even after many of us wrote the Honolulu Advertiser to let them know about the problem of "Mr. Montalvan"'s plagiarized letter, they not only didn't do anything about it, THEY PUBLISHED THE SAME EXACT LETTER SIX DAYS LATER (June 23), this time under the name of Ken Heinemann.

It seems the staff of the Honolulu Advertiser needs quite a bit of help. I would normally ask you to use the Advertiser's online form to write a letter to the editor so that the readership will know that they have been defrauded by the Republican National Committee. However, the Advertiser has failed not only to publish these letters to the editor, but indeed to even note their content enough to catch the second identical piece of Astroturfed junk in a single week. I suggest you write them a short letter -- but use very small words. Maybe this time they'll get it.

And now the letter has appeared verbatim in the June 22 letters to the editor of the Starkville Daily News of Starkville, Mississippi. The false claim of authorship here goes to a Mr. Adam. Click here to use the paper's online guestbook and let the paper's readers know what you think about the Republican Party's fraudulent abuse of this newspaper.

Now Rochester, New York's Democrat and Chronicle has published the letter, too (June 20, with authorship falsely claimed by Aaron S. Waid). This is a paper for a city of moderate size tied into the Gannett chain, which you think would be able to handle the Republicans' blunt-force tactics. But alas, it seems not -- after all, the D&C's parent newspaper is USA Today, which despite its considerable resources let Republican astroturf slip through in May. Please write a letter to the editor in hopes that readers will be notified, either by you or through a correction.

Tellingly, the Democrat and Chronicle has been spending a lot of time wagging its ethical finger at the New York Times, even writing an article about how such lapses couldn't happen at their paper. Whoops!

On Tuesday, June 17, The Reporter of Vacaville, California, published the Republican National Committee's hack letter, but with Scott Woltersdorf's name handily signed to it. Hopefully, if the editor is made aware of this problem, a public notification will be made.

On Wednesday, June 25, The Capital of Annapolis, Maryland published this piece of Republican Astroturf, with "Richard Peterson" falsely claiming authorship. If you have a minute, please send a letter to the editor of The Capital expressing (in your own words and for your own reasons, of course!) your dismay at the Republicans' lack of ethics in political conduct.

Now, the Deseret News of Salt Lake City really should have known better than to publish this latest piece of Republican astroturf. After all, as the folks at Failure is Impossible report (and I've independently verified), this newspaper published another letter written by the Republican National Committee earlier this year -- THREE TIMES on 1/12/03, 1/15/03 and 3/6/03. Yet on June 25, 2003, the Deseret News published another RNC hack letter, this time signed by one "Dennis Kelley."

After the last astroturf fiasco, the editorial page editor wrote that they were working on a solution, but it appears that three months later, no solution has been implemented -- apparently, not even a Google search. Have they just not figured it out yet?

Sigh. OK, take a deep breath and help these folks -- they really, really need your help. Use their feedback form, or write to the Editorial Page Editor, or both. Perhaps this is one newspaper that we have to be sure gets the first round of notifications when the GOP rolls out their next fraud.

Now here's a case of both a newspaper and a person that should both know better. The Times News of Lehighton, PA has published four letters signed by a Mr. Kevin Perneta singing the praises of George W. Bush. The latest (6/16/03) is the very RNC letter we've been tracking on this page, and the other three (3/20/03, 10/17/02, 9/26/02) are also RNC Astroturf. Please write the editor of the Times News and encourage them to stop accepting Perneta's lock-step, carbon-copied submissions.

...and the wave of Republican astroturf continues to wash up on our newspapers' shores... on Thursday, June 26, the Battle Creek Enquirer published the Republican National Committee hack letter, this time with "J. H." [who later wrote to me and told me that he was snookered into the whole enterprise as a 14 year old child, having been promised a lawn chair by the Republican Party] falsely claiming authorship of the text. At this point, two weeks out, there is no excuse except sloppiness (that, and a complete lack of coverage of this problem by the national media) for this sort of thing. But let's be helpful, and use the Battle Creek Enquirer's feedback page to inform them of the abuse of their trust by a reader and the Republican National Committee.

Same story, different paper. On July 1, this piece of Astroturf appeared under the name of "William J. Sullivan" in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Click here to let the editors know what's happened and to encourage them to inform their readers.

On another "duh, really shoulda known" note, Hernando Today of the Tampa area published this letter in exactly the same form -- TWICE UNDER TWO DIFFERENT NAMES within THREE DAYS OF EACH OTHER -- on July 1 and July 4.

Write the staff of Hernando Today and give them some pointers on searching Google and, um, their own newspaper.

Update: having written to the editor of Hernando Today, I was thanked for the tip but told that NO, they would not publish a correction. Their rationale: the Democratic Party does it, too. A simple visit to the Democratic National Committee shows that this is not true: the Democrats supply interested individuals with the e-mail addresses of newspapers, but do not provide any Astroturfed text whatsoever. Democrats, it seems, trust their members to be able to write their own words than Republicans do.

It's a shame when notices of appearance of an item in the papers eclipses the original notification of papers that the problem would be occurring in the first place. Sigh. Well, you can write the following papers by following the links below in response to the appearance of Astroturf in their pages, too:

  • The Hattiesburg American (thanks so much for clarifying your national status), on June 19.
  • The Sun-Link of Bremerton, WA on July 2.
  • The Press-Enterprise of inland Southern California, on July 5. Leland Carmean had the insight to write in a few days later to say that the "The July 5 Open Forum letter, concerning President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" plan reads as if it were taken directly from a White House press release." Unfortunately, it was!
  • The Contra Costa Times, of Bay Area California, on July 4.
  • The Gainesville Sun, on July 5.

On a positive note, an editor at Utah's Standard-Examiner writes to say "Thanks. Just caught the no child left behind astroturf before our paper published it." Huzzah, and kudos to the Standard-Examiner!

As we learn of more instances of Astroturf or its prevention in this case, we'll be sure to let you know.

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