"Letters from hometown soldiers describing their successes rebuilding Iraq have been appearing in newspapers across the country as U.S. public opinion on the mission sours," reports Ledyard King. "And all the letters are the same." A newspaper in Olympia, Washington noticed the pattern after receiving identically-worded letters from two different soldiers with the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment.
"What seemed to be a groundswell of protest materialized last week when WorldCom Inc. lawyers arrived at federal court for a hearing on whether the company's agreement to pay a $500 million fine was sufficient punishment for its mammoth fraud. ... Outside the courthouse, a small group of demonstrators rallied" including the Gray Panthers. "The outpouring, though, was hardly spontaneous. Several of the opponents, including protest organizers and petitioners, had ties to Issue Dynamics Inc.
"Readers have a right to assume that what they read on the letters page is not canned public relations material," Boston Globe Editorial Page Editor Renee Loth said. Responding to unknowingly running GOP "astroturf" form letters, the Globe is instituting a new policy to "confirm original authorship on any letter that could be part of an organized campaign." Globe Ombudsman Christine Chinlund writes that while readers may find the fake grassroots letters-to-the-editor offensive, in political campaigning circles, there is bipartisan support.
"Newspapers and political organizations are engaged in technological one-upmanship over 'AstroTurf' - letters to the editor that look like authentic grass-roots responses from readers but are not," reports Jennifer Lee.
"It looks like the Bush Administration is astroturfing, trying to artificially create the appearance of a grassroots movement supporting their policies," writes Jules Agee.
After a recent article in the British Medical Journal detailed drug company sponsorship of medical meetings on "female sexual dysfunction," a PR firm with clients in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry has launched a global campaign to "counter" the BMJ report. Michelle Lerner of the HCC De Facto PR firm said it would "violate ethical guidelines" to disclose the identity of her client.
Every February the powerful Public Affairs Council (PAC) holds its annual National Grassroots Conference for Corporations and Associations in some lovely southern location. PR Watch wanted to attend and report on this year's confab in Key West. We covered the 1997 conference and uncovered a goldmine of hidden information on how corporations wage powerful campaigns at the grassroots to promote their special interest agendas.
PR Watch has reported in the past on the questionable tactics of Bonner & Associates, which specializes in "astroturf" (artificial grassroots) organizing for corporate clients. Earlier this year, Jack Bonner was charged with ethics violations in Maryland, but the Maryland State Ethics Commission has cleared him of charges that he used deceptive tactics on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry.
"Having spent more than $30 million to help elect their allies to Congress, the major drug companies are devising ways to capitalize on their electoral success by securing favorable new legislation and countering the pressure that lawmakers in both parties feel to lower the cost of prescription drugs, industry officials say.
A year after the Canadian Supreme Court's landmark ruling allowing municipalities to ban the use of lawn pesticides, the chemical industry is fighting back. "In many cases they have been successful in out-organizing the local communities," says Alex Cullen, a member of the Ottawa City Council. In Toronto, for example, public meetings last week on a proposed pesticide ban were overwhelmed by representatives from lawn-care companies sporting T-shirts, handing out pamphlets and offering quick comebacks to any question.