Dave’s Wibblings has spotted a piece of professionally slick right-wing disinformation, signed “Ron Goodden”, in the South China Morning News:
My take on this question (since for some reason I can’t post a comment over there): Technically it’s not astroturf, since the writer isn’t pretending to be speaking for a grassroots organization; but it’s a closely related phenomenon.
When I see a letter from a westerner who doesn’t live in Hong Kong in a Hong Kong newspaper, I always wonder why they’re writing it. When the subject matter of the letter has nothing to do with Hong Kong and everything to do with US internal affairs, I wonder why it even gets published.
A Google Search for “Ron Goodden” turns up almost nothing but letters to editors pushing various GOP talking points:* The outing of Valerie Plame was a ruse by the Democratic party; * Public schools are bad and should have their funding reduced even further;
* the French are evil because they don’t abjectly support us;
* the Muslims want to kill us all;
* the Muslims want to kill us all again;
And so on (and on, and on).So, is this astroturfing? Is this person paid to send out all these letters pushing a single point of view? Or is he just a right-wing idiot with too much time on his hands?
As I’ve remarked elsewhere, one of the things the Republicans have figured out is that copywriters are relatively cheap to buy and maintain. One constantly sees slick, professional “letters to the editor” that hew closely to the current round of Republican talking points. Real letters from individual citizens who are moved to comment by current events are far more idiosyncratic than these synthetic productions, and they only sporadically match up with current talking points.
Another related phenomenon is the equally slick “forwarded e-mail” that supposedly began as just a letter someone wrote. I’ve worked in publishing for a long time, and I know professionally written copy when I see it.
At one point my sister forwarded me one of these pieces of e-mail, and Making Light’s readership dissected it. What we discovered was that its claim to be a letter to the editor originally published in a Durham, North Carolina newspaper was false. Readers tracked down all the newspapers that could have printed it, and none of them had. The supposed letter’s first dateable appearance, already sporting its supposed provenance, was at Free Republic.
I meant it when I said that deceiving us has become an industrial process. There’s a huge amount of this stuff in circulation. It’s the original viral marketing, and it circulates at levels where no one is going to challenge its outrageous lies. It makes me wonder why the Democrats don’t hire their own copywriters, or at least start pointing out in public that that’s what the Republicans have been doing.
Addendum: Andy Vance comments, “I came across this remarkably unequivocal article this morning. James “journolobby” Glassman is pw3ned. More please.