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. The Republican Party engaged in the same campaign three months later, and despite considerable efforts to let papers across the country know that this junk was headed their way, a significant number of plagiarized letters to the editor made their way onto newsprint.
Now that the election 2004 season has started, the official campaign of George W. Bush has endorsed plagiarism as an acceptable political tactic, too. Apparently not confident in the ability of Bush's supporters to complete their own thoughts, much less their own sentences, the Bush-Cheney campaign offers snippets of text for people to appropriate, then sign their name to as authors. The fabrication technology employed by the Republican ticket then permits the Bush supporter to send the Bush campaign staffers' text to dozens of newspapers and specialty newsletters at a time automatically, with each letter claiming individual authorship and not disclosing the true authorship of the text.
How do I know how this works? I used the system myself to send a letter containing the Bush staffers' text to dozens of newspapers and newsletters near Durham, North Carolina, where I live. Don't fret: I haven't turned to the dark side, and I made sure to let the papers know who really wrote those words. In fact, that's kind of the idea. Read my letter below and you'll see what I mean.
Get the idea? While it's unfortunate (if not too surprising) that the Bush campaign is willing to sink to such a low level in order to make it look like the American people support him, we can fight such unethical behavior using the very system the Bush-Cheney campaign has erected.
HOW TO STOP GEORGE W. BUSH'S PLAGIARISM DRIVE IN SIX EASY STEPS
The bad news is that the campaign to re-elect George W. Bush has initiated a campaign of Republican-sponsored plagiarism on a scale we've never seen before, backed by a program of unprecedented technological sophistication.
The good news is that we can use Bush's own technology to stop his unethical practice before it gains too much steam. But we have to act fast. As of September 17, 2003, here's what to do.
And that's it! Now you've done your part to shut the Bush Plagiarism 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 George W. Bush's campaign of dirty tricks, and we can help return the Letters to the Editor sections of newspapers to everyday people who actually write something down themselves.
Let your friends know not just about the new low that George W. Bush has sunk to, but also about how to stop such unethical practices in their neck of the woods. If we work together, we can do it!
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