This afternoon, I called No Labels at 202-588-1990 to ask for comment on its recent use of an automatic letter-to-the-editor system with pre-written text, resulting in the publication to date of 17 letters to the editor in American newspapers, each of which promotes No Labels, each of which contains No Labels’ pre-written text, and each of which falsely attributes authorship to a person residing at an address nearby the targeted newspaper.
When I called, I was directed to the press office. After hearing my questions in brief, “Erin” (who did not offer her last name) told me that she would not comment unless I sent questions in writing to her at email@example.com. That’s what I’ve promptly done, as you can read below.
I’m sharing this message as an open letter because of No Labels’ history of not responding to press inquiries. My first letter sent to the corporation on November 2 2010, my last message sent to firstname.lastname@example.org on April 8 2011, and a number of inquiries in between have met with no response.
If the information I share in this open letter inspires you to ask your own questions, I encourage you to write to Erin at email@example.com, or to call No Labels at 202-588-1990. If I receive any response, I will share it with you in the comments section attached to this post. A lack of comments indicates a lack of response.
To the press office at No Labels:
As the series of articles at http://irregulartimes.com/index.php/archives/tag/no-labels/ documents, from Thursday April 28 to May 4 2011 letters containing the same text were published in the following 17 newspapers:
Arizona Daily Sun, AZ
Baltimore Sun, MD
Brainerd Dispatch, MA
Burlington Free Press, VT
Chicago Tribune, IL
Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, GA
Connecticut Post, CT
Dothan Eagle, AL
Iowa City Press Citizen, IA
Morristown Daily Record, NJ
Orlando Sentinel, FL
Salem News, MA
San Antonio Express-News, TX
St. Petersburg Times, FL
Syracuse Post-Standard, NY
Taunton Daily Gazette, MA
Times of Trenton, NJ
Despite containing the same text, the authorship of each of these letters is claimed by a different person living in a community situated nearby each different newspaper.
These letters appeared following an e-mail solicitation sent in the last week of April 2011 by No Labels leaders Nancy Jacobson and Mark McKinnon asking subscribers to the No Labels listserv to use a letter-to-the-editor generator at http://hq.nolabels.org/page/speakout/speak-out. This page features text pre-written by an unidentified No Labels staffer and incorporated into the form to be used by visitors, accompanied by the fields:
The text appearing in the No Labels form is in most cases an exact copy of the letters appearing with false attributions of authorship in the nation’s newspapers. A minority of the 17 letters contain an additional sentence or two added by the sender. The pre-written text by No Labels reads:
“Like my fellow Americans, I am deeply concerned about our nation’s financial future. Our country will face a fiscal catastrophe if Washington can’t address our crushing debt.
“Fortunately, some in Congress understand the urgency. For months, a bipartisan group of Senators known as the “Gang of Six” have been working together to produce a comprehensive plan to address the ballooning deficit. Their approach has earned the backing of No Labels, a new political group encouraging bipartisan problem-solving. The Gang of Six could issue their proposal as soon as next week, but already some on the left and right have begun their attacks.
“As Congress weighs its next move in the weeks ahead, we need our leaders to demonstrate real courage and exercise political restraint. Let’s hope our representatives give the Gang of Six a fair hearing. If not, we risk more hyper-partisan gridlock, which we can’t afford.”
Although a brief note currently appears next to this form reading “Please feel free to edit in your own voice and language,” this note did not appear until the day after No Labels’ letter-to-the-editor campaign began, after critical notice regarding No Labels’ practice had already been published and after a number of letters had already been sent off to newspapers.
On May 3, No Labels posted an entry on its main blog at http://nolabels.org/blog/speak-out-letter-editor/, reading:
Unless James Mancuso is the staffer at No Labels who wrote the text of this letter, he is not the actual author of this letter. There is no public record indicating James Mancuso’s employment at No Labels.
The Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines the verb “plagiarize” as “to use another person’s idea or a part of their work and pretend that it is your own.” Merriam-Webster defines “plagiarism” as “the act of using another person’s words or ideas without giving credit to that person.”
Based on this information, I have some questions I would like No Labels to answer at its earliest convenience:
1. Does No Labels consider the false claims of authorship by these identical letters to the editor to be acts of plagiarism? If not, why not?
2. Does No Labels plan to continue using automated letter-to-the-editor generators in the future?
3. Online, No Labels describes its goals: to return “civility” to American political discourse, to “model the kind of discourse we want our leaders to practice,” and “to change the dynamics of our political culture.” Does No Labels consider the automated sending of identical letters to the editor with falsely named authors to be consistent with its goals?
I look forward to your prompt response.
52 Conway Road
Camden, ME 04843