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March 23, 2009
Appeal for Redress: AstroturfingBy Greyhawk
Another Mudville anniversary blast from the past - this exposure of an "astroturf" campaign actually first appeared at MilBlogs in October, 2006 at the time of the roll out of the campaign. This version - unchanged from the original - first appeared here at Mudville in February, 2007, as CBS television's "60 Minutes" program prepared to launch an "in-depth" infomercial on behalf of the effort.
But in her "Reporters Notebook" video (at the link) Lara Logan describes Appeal for redress: "It's basically a grass roots movement amongst active duty, serving members of the U.S. military." And "We were very careful to look thoroughly at the group, and to look into their military backgrounds, and to make sure that this wasn't... people with something hidden in their past or some reason that wasn't the stated reason to be involved in this."
Wrong in every way - and either the most pathetic attempt ever at "investigative journalism" or absolute willing participation in an effort to hoodwink the American public, no other explanations are available.
The first "launch" of Appeal for Redress was timed in an effort to have some impact on the U.S. elections of 2006; the 60 Minutes boost was planned in conjunction with the beginning of "surge" operations in Iraq. As an effort to draw signatures from American service members Appeal for Redress was an abysmal failure - it's appeal to them was as near zero as it could possibly be.
But its real purpose was to make Americans believe that such a "grassroots" effort was indeed underway, and exceptionally popular. (After all, 60 Minutes wouldn't give it valuable air time if it was actually a bogus failure, would they?) But if they achieved any success in that (mis)direction, it didn't translate into defeating "the surge."
With that introductory note complete, here's our story...
This post originally appeared at MilBlogs in October, 2006. While some of the information uncovered herein has since made it's way into smaller media outlets, most major mainstream media sources are still reporting this effort as a "grass roots" campaign. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Astroturfing (via Wikipedia):
In politics and advertising, the term astroturfing describes formal public relations (PR) campaigns which seek to create the impression of being a spontaneous, grassroots behavior. Hence the reference to the "AstroTurf" (artificial grass) is a metaphor to indicate "fake grassroots" support.
And that's what's occurring with the "Appeal for Redress" web site.
The missing piece of the puzzle was actually available from the start:
Yesterday, a company that does public relations for the liberal activist political action committee MoveOn.org, Fenton Communications, organized a conference call for reporters and three active-duty soldiers to unveil the soldiers' anti-war group Appeal for Redress.
That's from the October 26 New York Sun - kudos to the only reporters in the crowd who had the guts to tell the truth about this. As of this writing, over 200 newspapers have carried the story; The Boston Globe, al-Jazeera, The Washington Post, ABC News, Reuters, The (UK) Guardian... but none of the stories acknowledge the orchestration of the event by Fenton Communications. Instead, virtually all of them detail the "grass roots" effort of the troops. Even without the Sun story, the mere fact that this appeared simultaneously in multiple "big media" outlets is evidence enough of such a campaign. In the pre-internet days this wouldn't be so obvious, but in these days of instant global communication the life cycle of such a story should hardly exceed 24 hours (and wouldn't have in the past without active media participation). But if you're among the few tech savvy and information hungry people interested in not taking such slickly-packaged information at face value, here are the facts about "Appeal for Redress" in order of discovery here.
The site is registered to J.E. Glick, of 803 North Main Street, Goshen, Indiana. A quick check of online white pages reveals that's the address of The Fourth Freedom Forum. (You can also read about the group here). This would seem to confirm the point in the Sun story quoted above:
A staff member at Fenton Communications who requested anonymity said his company was approached last week by a longtime peace activist and former director of the anti-nuclear proliferation front known as SANE/Freeze, David Cortright, to publicize Appeal for Redress. Mr. Cortright is now president of an Indiana-based nonprofit group, the Fourth Freedom Forum
And Jennifer Glick (J.E. Glick), actual "owner" of the Appeal for Redress web site, is listed in the Fourth Freedom Forum contact page as Director, Information Services.
The Fourth Freedom Forum's opposition to war pre-dates Iraq and Afghanistan. They are a well funded, very professional organization. But the group is not listed among the sponsoring organizations on the Appeal for Redress web page. (Those groups are Iraq Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, and Veterans For Peace.)
It would seem the Fourth Freedom Forum wants to hide it's activities behind some groups and individuals seen as more credible to this particular cause. (I think "front groups" is the usual term.) But it was easy to find the real owners of the "Redress" web page (I originally noted the failure to do so on the part of one of the reporters who carried this propaganda to "the next level" - but have since come to believe that among journalists this was actually common knowledge that they saw fit not to include in their stories), so the "staff member at Fenton Communications who requested anonymity" (ironically, given the breathless press accounts, the only actual whistleblower in this story) may or may not have needed to be so concerned about being revealed.
(Update: registration of the site has been changed. Fourth Freedom is working quickly to camouflage their involvement in this project.)
Back to the growing number of groups and individuals behind this campaign in a moment. But first, a look at the activist career of Jonathan Hutto, the "front man" of this organization.
In the initial media coverage of this story he was described as "a Navy seaman based in Norfolk, Va., who set up the Web site a month ago." But that's a humble description of a well-traveled man. The full truth - while easy to discover - is a bit more complex.
Initially I speculated that he had been "recruited" after the publication of his letter to the socialist propaganda e-newsletter "GI Special" on 26 September, 2006. The origin of the "Redress" web site project - "about a month ago", according to the news coverage - would fit this time frame. (Background on that publication here - and read that link for a profile of "GI Specials" creator, Thomas Barton, yet another of the "fellow travelers" on the periphery of this story.)
But I may have been wrong on that "induction." Independent research by Robin Boyd at Newsbusters reveals additional facts:
Let's put all that in an easier to follow chronology:
1999-2004: Hutto works for "non-profit organizations", including Amnesty International.
2002: Hutto has risen to the position of Amnesty International's Membership Program Coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic Region (seen here - with megaphone - "rallying the troops"). When his university considered honoring President Bush he wrote a letter opposing the decision.
2004: Hutto joins the Navy, and serves as a Mass Communications Specialist and Photographer aboard the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt.
Summer, 2006: He is recognized as the Theodore Roosevelt's outstanding "Blue Jacket of the Quarter (BJOQ)"
October 26, 2006: Fenton Communications holds a media teleconference to announce the launch of the "Appeal for Redress" web site. News stories that follow describe Hutto simply as "a Navy seaman based in Norfolk, Va., who set up the Web site a month ago."
It would appear that among his other accomplishments, Hutto is very skilled at web page design.
Now let's get back to our look at the growing number of groups and individuals involved in this month-old effort begun by "a Navy seaman based in Norfolk, Va."
A review thus far:
TrueMajority -- an antiwar group founded by Ben Cohen, one of the creators of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream -- hired Fenton Communications, a Washington public relations firm that has worked intermittently with Sheehan over the past year to coordinate media coverage.
TrueMajority and Ben and Jerry's are also Fenton clients, by the way.
2. Fourth Freedom Forum, (another of Fenton's clients), is the actual "owner" of the Appeal for Redress web site. According to the NY Sun, it was David Cortright, president of the Fourth Freedom Forum (and author), who approached Fenton to represent Appeal for Redress.
3, 4, 5 - The groups actually listed as sponsoring organizations on the web page: Iraq Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, and Veterans For Peace. Of those, only Military Families Speak out is a listed Fenton client.
Now back to the Sun for more (hyperlinks added):
Still, the counsel retained by Appeal for Redress, J.E. McNeil, runs the Center for Conscience and War, an organization whose mission is to defend the rights of conscientious objectors.
That's a pretty powerful "grass roots" team so far.
Actually, it's nothing of the sort. But if you pick up one of the 200-odd newspapers with an article written by one of the reporters invited by Fenton Communications to help launch this project, you'll read that it is just that, a "grass roots" project started by a " Navy seaman based in Norfolk, Va." Nothing will be said about who provided the story, the countless groups behind them, or the countless groups behind those groups.
And if you visit other web sites and forums, you'll see posts directing people to "tell their friends in the military about this great site launched by active duty military guys." If you are in the military, it's likely you'll soon get a chain email telling you the same. This is all part of the organized "astroturfing" process.
If, on the other hand, you are reading this post, you may wonder what you can do to counter that. The answer is simple, though perhaps not easy. Join a very real "grass roots" campaign. We have no lawyers, we have no slick professional PR firms, we certainly don't have the kind of big bucks available to this crowd - and we definitely don't have a thundering herd of reporters ready to write whatever we tell them to.
In short, we are a real grass roots community. And here's what we need to do. For the record - I'm all for my fellow troops speaking their minds, but I'm not in favor of them being duped by Socialist organizations hiding behind false fronts - "astroturfing". And that's what's going on with the web site called "Appeal for Redress".
If you want to fight back, spread the word to as many people as you can, via forums, email, or phoning the editor of your local paper - especially if they've already carried the initial press release disguised as news. Tell them what's happening, and give them this link: http://www.mudvillegazette.com/milblogs/2006/10/27/#006854 which will bring them right to this entry page.
And keep coming back - we'll keep doing our best to expose anyone who would attempt to use our fellow troops with deceptive tactics like these.
Posted by Greyhawk / March 23, 2009 12:45 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
I like having visitors to my house. I hope you are entertained. I fight for your right to free speech, and am thrilled when you exercise said rights here. Comments and e-mails are welcome, but all such communication is to be assumed to be 1)the original work of any who initiate said communication and 2)the property of the Mudville Gazette, with free use granted thereto for publication in electronic or written form. If you do NOT wish to have your message posted, write "CONFIDENTIAL" in the subject line of your email.
Original content copyright © 2003 - 2011 by Greyhawk. Fair, not-for-profit use of said material by others is encouraged, as long as acknowledgement and credit is given, to include the url of the original source post. Other arrangements can be made as needed.
Contact: greyhawk at mudvillegazette dot com