Astroturf on the editorial page

I sent the letter below, which I have edited slightly, to Michael Arrieta-Walden, the the Oregonian public editor:

Dear Michael:

Your piece on astroturf was good. The internet can be a valuable tool in spotting that kind of thing.

You might also take a look at some of your columnists, for example Debra Saunders.

Of the 784 words in this piece, all but 88 (see below) could have been written by a Bush campaign spokesman. The arguments and talking points are identical. The Bush people have a powerful outreach program, which makes it easy for columnists to write a column with minimal research.

Furthermore, if you look at the 88 words in context, yoiu will see that they’re concessive — she’s setting up other, pro-Bush points. A Bush spokesman could not allow himself make these concessions, because the Bush campaign is mostly directed at true believers who are unwilling to admit anything at all. But it is very helpful if a surrogate like Saunders makes these concessions in order to immediately dismiss them, as she did.

Your own Rick Reinhardt often writes similiarly.

I am not asking for ideological uniformity, but when columnists coordinate their efforts with the RNC (as many do — the meaningless, endlessly repeated “flip-flop” charge being an example) rather than doing their own research and writing independently, it makes the Oregonian into an unpaid RNC organ.

When the media came under pressure to represent the conservative point of view better, it did not have to mean that there would be Republican plants in the newspapers, but that’s what happened. If someone is hired as the result of outside pressure of that type, he or she is more or less invulnerable, and furthermore, the ideological content of their thinking is effectively written into their job description.

I know of very few columnists anywhere who parrot the Democratic line the way that Saunders, Reinhardt, and others do the Republican line. Of the Democratic columnists I know of — Paul Krugman, Molly Ivins, Joe Conason, Anthony Lewis, E. J. Dionne, Frank Rich, and a handful of others — all work independently, and they are all more likely to be ahead of the Democratic Party than they are to be following it.


John Emerson

“The world now knows that Bush, the CIA and other countries’ intelligence agencies — and even Hussein’s Iraqi lieutenants until December 2002 — were wrong about Iraq possessing WMD…. ”

“Did the Bush administration make mistakes? Of course. There is strong reason to believe this administration sent too few troops to Iraq. And it doesn’t help that the top Bushies have a way of freezing out those likely to tell them news they don’t want to hear. Also, Bush so overvalues loyalty that it leads him to overlook incompetence.”

PS. Blogger REALLY can be annoying at times.