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   "Astroturf" Letters to the Editor

Boston Globe’s Ombudsman Reports:

“Astroturf” Letters to the Editor

On Feb. 3, Christine Chinlund, ombudsman for the Boston Globe discussed the following questions she posed to her readers: “When you see a letter to the editor in the Globe, do you presume it was written by the person whose name is on it? Does it matter?”

She revealed that, four times since mid-October, her newspaper “unwittingly published letters that were written not by the local folks who signed them, but by the Republican National Committee [RNC].” All the letters praised President Bush. The same letters also appeared nearly verbatim in other papers across the US; only the signatures were different to make it appear the writers were local.

Such letters are called ''astroturf'' (as in, “fake grass roots”).

Queries Chinlund, “Are such prefab letters a form of '’deception,’ as reader Amity Wilczek put it when she alerted the Globe to the 'scam.’ Or do they simply reflect how democracy works in the Internet age—no different, really, than a form letter sent to Congress?”

She adds that the RNC is “not alone in drafting prefab letters to the editor, or making them easy to e-mail.” She quotes GOP spokesman Kevin Sheridan as saying the RNC letter-writing campaign has been very successful, ''an important way to get grass-roots support for the president... out through the media.'' As for the Democratic Party, former Clinton press secretary Michael McCurry told her he had no problem with the practice.

The Globe’s Editorial Page Editor, Renee Loth, does have a problem with it. ''Readers have a right to assume that what they read on the letters page is not canned public relations material,'' she told the paper’s ombudsman.


This story ran on page A13 of the Boston Globe on 2/3/2003. ©Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.


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This story was published on February 10, 2003.
  
FEBRUARY 2003
LOCAL NEWS
·NEWS BRIEFS
·CALENDARS:
· Curran Calls for End to Executions
· Maryland Ranked 20th Nationwide in Toxic Pollution Linked to Respiratory Disease
· Beleaguered Center Determined to Remain a ‘Funnel to the Poor’
· Grantmaking Soars Despite Down Economy
· SPORTS: O’s Change Front Office, But Not Much Else
· Can Exercising Eminent Domain Be Justifiable?
· The Future of “Smart Growth”
LETTERS
· Letters
·OPEN LETTERS:
 ·  Another Open Letter To America from a Canadian
 ·  To France: We Know Your ‘No’ to Bush Doesn’t Make You Liars
 ·  To Bush: Use Wisdom Statesmanship
 ·  To Limbaugh Advertisers: Don’t Support Those Who Support Racism
 ·  To Peter Jennings & ABC: Your Double Standards Are Showing
 ·  To Wolf Blitzer: Good Thing CNN Is Not Our Only News Source
 ·  To Senator Kyl: Beware Phony Conservatives
 ·  To the US Ambassador to New Zealand
 ·  (01/16) An Appeal to Bill Gates, Ted Turner, or Some Other Billionaire
ART & ENTERTAINMENT
·Book Review: New Koufax Biography Depicts Jewish Pitcher’s ‘Pursuit of Excellence’
·Baltimore Poets Join National Day of Poetry Against the War on February 12
NEWS MEDIA CRITIQUE
·The Great Deregulator
·“Light for all”? Only if you connect the dots.
·Ad Copy Received by Email Shows How Search Engines Can Skew Results to Make Profit
·Does White House Have a ‘Fetish for Secrecy’?
·Why the Public Needs to Check Out These “Best 9/11 Sites”
·“Astroturf” Letters to the Editor
·Brit Vets Say Anthrax Vaccine May Have Been Thrown Overboard
·NPR’s “Justice Talking” Takes on Yucca Mountain & More
·The Curious Timing of Ashcroft’s Scott Ritter Investigation
SPEAKING OUT
·EDITORIALS:
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·(1/17) Will the White House Please Slow Down and Listen to Reason about Iraq before It's Too Late?
·MLK, Jr. Isn’t the Only Black Achiever Worthy of Recognition
·Bush and Decison Making
·Physician Details Horrors To Come in a War against Iraq
· Multilateralist Cowards Turn to UN When They Should Govern Themselves
· America: Wake Up!
·Eyewitness in Iraq: It’s Not Enough
·Local Pastor’s Speech on Martin Luther King, Jr. Stresses Having Courage, Mastering Fears, and Overcoming Oppression
·What Makes People Believe Bush Lies? Could It Be Media Repetition?
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·The Real State of the Union
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·War with Iraq: What’s in It for Us?
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NATION & WORLD
· The Water Barons: A Handful of Corporations Seek to Privatize the World’s Water
· Brazil’s President Picks Butter Over Guns
· Text of the October 11, 2002 National Security Resolution
· The Cause of the Corporate Collapse—and Its Cure
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