Saturday, January 23, 2010

She Gets Around

President Obama's poll numbers are in free-fall, but he still has at least one "citizen" who ardently defends him, in the letters section of your local paper.

We refer to one Ellie Light, who has published the same letting supporting Obama in at least 42 newspapers in 18 states--and claimed residence in most of those locations.

In fact, tracking Ms. Light's letter-writing campaign has become something of a crusade for a few bloggers and independent-minded journalists. Among the MSM, Sabrina Eaton of the Cleveland Plain Dealer was one of the first to identify Light's one-woman astroturf campaign. By her count, Ms. Light has published similar letters supporting Obama in more than a dozen publications. In most cases, she listed her residence as a city in the paper's circulation area.

“It’s time for Americans to realize that governing is hard work, and that a president can’t just wave a magic wand and fix everything,” said a letter from alleged Philadelphian Ellie Light, that was published in the Jan. 19 edition of The Philadelphia Daily News.

A letter from Light in the Jan. 20 edition of the
San Francisco Examiner concluded with an identical sentence, but with an address for Light all the way across the country in Daly City, California.

Variations of Light’s letter ran in Ohio’s Mansfield News Journal on Jan. 13, with Light claiming an address in Mansfield; in New Mexico’s Ruidoso News on Jan. 12, claiming an address in Three Rivers; in South Carolina’s The Sun News on Jan. 18, claiming an address in Myrtle Beach; and in the Daily News Leader of Staunton, Virginia on Jan. 15, claiming an address in Waynesboro. Her publications list includes other papers in Ohio, West Virginia, Maine, Michigan, Iowa, Pennsylvania and California, all claiming separate addresses.

Ms. Eaton also reports that Light sent her a similar missive in mid-January, about the time the letter writing campaign began. Light has also refused to answer questions from the Plain Dealer reporter about her publishing efforts and all those different residences.

In the blogosphere, Patterico is also on the trail of Ellie Light. His search found even more letters from the Obama supporter, in forums ranging from the Washington Times to Ben Smith's column at Politico, and even a blog in USA Today. Interestingly, the blog comment and the Times letter list Long Beach, California as Light's city of residence. But in other papers, Light claims to live in various California communities (Santa Cruz, San Felipe, Grass Valley and Salinas, to name a few), and other towns across the nation, including Algoma, Wisconsin; Greenwich, Connecticut, and Gainesville, Georgia. Ms. Light also went global, publishing her letter in the Bangkok, Thailand Post, but (oddly enough), didn't claim to be a resident of that country.

The obvious question is why anyone would go to so much time and effort. Newspaper readership has been in a downward spiral for years, and relatively few people pay attention to "Letters to the Editor," whether they appear in print, or on-line. If Ms. Light is trying to shape public opinion, she certainly chose a poor vehicle.

Additionally, it's hard to believe that her letter-writing campaign could be part of a professional astro-turfing effort. If the White House or the Democratic Party is trying to rally the troops, they have more effective tools than a letter-writing campaign, given their ties to the MSM.

On the other hand, Ms. Light's letter barrage might be connected to some sort of informal campaign, among Mr. Obama's most die-hard core supporters. The idea is hardly new; over the years, I've seen appeals for letters to the editor on several conservative websites, although none of those campaigns have gained any real traction. Most of us understand that (a) newspapers often print fewer letters from conservative readers than from liberals, and (b) the time devoted to writing might be better spent on other forms of activism.

Still, these are desperate times for liberals and (some) are willing to try anything to keep the base energized. And, it is rather interesting that Ms. Light won't divulge any details about her actual residence or vocation. If she was a one-woman, letter-writing machine, you'd think Ellie Light would be proud of her effort, and willing to respond to media queries.

But Ms. Light quickly deflects any questions about her identity and all those residences. At the end of her article on the controversy, Sabrina Eaton printed her e-mail exchanges with the mysterious letter writer. Judging by the tone, it's clear that Ellie Light has no desire to provide any additional information. That is certainly her right, but it also raises more questions about who she is, and who might be supporting the effort.
ADDENDUM: University of Missouri Journalism Professor Tom Rosenstiel tells Ms. Eaton that there's an easy way to prevent this sort of fraud--or at least discourage it. Newspapers should request street addresses and phone numbers from individuals who write letters to the editor, allowing a check of their location and identity prior to publication. A few publications already require that information, but most don't. That created the loophole that Ellie Light so cleverly exploited.

And for what it's worth, some web sleuths believe that "Ellie" is none other than Samantha Power, the former campaign aide to Barack Obama who was forced to resign for calling Hillary Clinton a "monster." Ms. Power has recovered from that snafu rather nicely; she now serves on the National Security Council. Power is also married to Cass Sunstein, one of the President's many czars. He's the guy who believes that animals should have legal standing to sue in the nation's courts. Sunstein has also advocated "secret" payments to experts outside the government, to shape opinion and prod them into action. Hmmm....

One more thing: has anyone bothered to trace the IP address(es) for Ellie Light's various submissions? That might prove rather interesting.


tfhr said...

I'm surprised the IP address hasn't been tracked down.

On the other hand, I wouldn't be surprised if Ms. Light is registered to vote in all of those places!

Unknown said...

Over at Patterico, someone suggested "triangulating" Ellie Light's claimed residences with the nearest ACORN offices. Worth a shot. But I think the IP addresses are the real clue; in fact, I'll predict they can be traced to government office buildings in D.C., or public libraries in that city. In either case, it should be pretty easy to get to the bottom of this.

Corky Boyd said...

I have had a number of letters published in newspapers around the world, including the English language paper, Moscow Times. Only one, the Washington Post, verified my name and address. It also slightly edited my letter before publication and showed me the changes before publocation.

Newspapers are very short handed nowadays. Twenty years ago this would never have happened. One paper I worked for was sued when a writer used another's name to distort his stand on an issue. Things tightened up very quickly after that.

Paul Wilson said...

Every letter to the editor I've had published within the last five years, or considered for publication, an editor (or more likely an assistant) has called or emailed me to verify my identity and in one case, asked for a fact-check reference. Apparently, standards are slipping. Or maybe they are just seduced by the message. I've had letters published in the Washington Post, the Washington Times and the Baltimore Sun.

davod said...

Professor Rosentiel's approach is used by Congressmen and Senators with their on line comment form with one exception - If you do not enter a location within their district many forms do not accept the comment.

Of course the way around this is to send a fax. Old technology comes in hand sometimes.