McCain's campaign is writing fake "letters to the editor"

Article here.

Essentially, the McCain campaign hires ghost-writers to write fabricated letters in support of McCain and Palin, then mails them to local supporters (who sign them) in swing states after which they get mailed to local newspapers en masse.

Is this as unethical as it seems on the surface? I guess one could rationalize that, as long as the signers believe everything in the letter, it’s kind of like signing a petition. But the writers are also encouraged to make the letters personal, and in the example in the above article, the writer makes up a fictitious son in Iraq to add emotional punch. I personally find the practice loathsome, and does not reflect well on the McCain-Palin ticket. Obviously, if there’s evidence that the Obama-Biden campaign is doing the same thing, I’d be just as disgusted with them.

Is this accepted practice these days? No big deal? Or a remarkable act of deception by a major political party?

Why are these “fake”? If the person who supposedly signed them was non-existant or their signatures were forged without their knowledge, then it’d be “fake”. Otherwise it’s not “fake” and it’s fairly common.

I’d say it’s pretty much accepted practice in that it’s not that different from encouraging people to write letters and telling them what to say in those letters - which I’m confident both campaigns do. (Actually, Obama’s people may be skipping letters to the editor, what with the whole ‘dying medium’ thing, but I think it’s a bipartisan tactic.) It’s dishonest, yes. And maybe worse is that the campaign itself might be encouraging people to lie just to write a more gripping missive. Then again, it’s the letters to the editor. How many people do you think this is going to persuade?

Please tell me this isn’t going to devolve into another nit-picky thread where we talk about the dictionary definition of the word “fake” for the next three days.

They are at the very least disingenous, but mostly just kind of skeevy.
But, whatever; it isn’t illegal. Actually sounds like a pretty solid strategy, but is it really fairly common?

I think it’s no more fake than politicians delivering speeches that were written for them by someone else.

On the other hand, if I were in charge of the letters-to-the-editor section of a newspaper, I’d try not to print letters that appeared to have been written in this way – though if a few slipped through, it would not keep me awake at night.

It sounds like the author can write something like “I have a son in Iraq,” but the person who signs it might not. That is, the letters contain personal details about the author that are probably not true about the signer. The signer just has to read the letter and agree with the sentiments. That seems unethical to me. Do you have any cites that it’s “fairly common” to do this? If so, that’s depressing.

Both campaigns do this, and I say this as an Obama supporter. It’s SOP.


It’s a little more fake, actually, because politicians it’s common knowledge that the speeches have been written by someone else. It’s expected. There’s also the issue of these letters including information that is just untrue. From a politician, that can get you in trouble. (Paging Joe Biden.)

I’ve gotten several emails from the Obama campaign encouraging supporters to write letters to the editor, but have never been given a pre-written letter to sign and send.

Certainly, if they contain untruths, that’s a problem – but that’s regardless of who wrote it.

This I can understand. Pre-written by another person is just fuckin’ weird.

Just politics. It is no big thing.

They do suggest topics, though, don’t they? I’m not saying there’s zero difference, I think the distinction is worth noting. But the intent is the same, which is to give the appearance of a large, spontaneous demonstration of public support, when that support is actually choreographed.

Yes. But that’s why I noted that by creating their own letters with fake biographies, the campaign is arguably encouraging people to pretend to be mothers of veterans and so forth. It’s nothing that individuals can’t do on their own, it won’t swing the election, it’s only somewhat different from other/past campaigns, etc. etc., still, it looks like one more encouragement of dishonesty in politics, which nobody needs.

I think companies, and maybe newspapers too, I don’t know, are getting a little bit wise to stuff like this. I vaguely recall the story of one religious conservative group that wanted to protest a TV show and planned to flood the network with loads of angry letters. So they made up a form letter and sent it around the Internet- but when the network received no complaints except for the same form letter, over and over with different signatures, they realized they were only hearing from a tiny minority and not from the populace at large.

Having worked on a couple of political campaigns, it is exceedingly common to provide fodder for people to write letters to the editor. When I saw it, it was generally more along the lines of, “Here’s a hot topic that if we got our friend, the Mayor of Nowheresville to get a letter published in the Daily Spittoon-Ledger, we might sway some people. Let’s tell him what to say!” I’m sure some campaigns would write a suggested letter, and have the person make whatever changes they’d like.

But in no case did we ever just wholesale make shit up, whether it be having a son in Iraq or actually having witnessed a poor person buy a Cadillac with food stamps, or whatever. Since I’m not a Salon member, it isn’t clear to me whether the McCain camp suggested that a person fabricate having a son in Iraq, or whether the person embellished on the McCain provided text.

As others have said, it’s standard operating procedure. This is how you organize people in an election. Not to be too snide about it, but you rarely go wrong in underestimating the prowess of the American public. If you want a political point to be made, it will more likely be successful if the campaign treats its well-meaning friends like kindergartners: get them dressed, pack their lunch, pin their mittens to the jacket, and drop them off at school. Otherwise, you “risk” people writing letters that don’t actually support the candidate (e.g., Joe Biden’s recent interviews) or being rambling messes that don’t have a point (e.g., Sarah Palin’s meetings with foreign dignitaries).

Sounds like a low-tech version of astroturfing to me. Besides, who reads letters to the editor and takes them seriously these days anyway? A very high percentage of those letters are written by complete wackjobs.

It is common enough to have a term describing it: astroturfing. As in, a planned campaign of identical letters to the editor that is intended to create the illusion of grass roots support for a candidate or issue.

Neither am I. This one is available for free.

Just because it’s “politics” and “everyone else does it” doesn’t make it any less sleazy and reprehensible. Isn’t there some saying about friends jumping off bridges?

There’s also a difference between a campaign that says “want to stop emu smuggling? Write your congressperson or newspaper!” or “here’s a sample letter to send” versus this:

It’s disgusting and should not be acceptable by any candidate.

Cite that the Obama campaign actually writes the letters for people to send, rather than encouraging people to write letters?

And if McCain supporters actually send a ghost-written letter to the editor that includes mis-statements of important facts (I have a son in Iraq), then this part of the campaign goes beyond skeevy.

(on preview)
Astroturfing? Geez, I"m behind the times. Looks like the most recent political example that Wiki cites is 2003 letters in support of Bush’s economic policies

I await a cite that the Obama campaign is involved in “astroturfing”.

Huh. Doesn’t work for me. I just get a “subscribe to Salon” page.

From that snippet, it isn’t clear to me whether the guy is writing a letter for someone who doesn’t have a kid in Iraq, or whether he felt guilty because the ghostwriter himself doesn’t have a kid in Iraq. If he writes a letter that he’s a single mother of three who only makes $23,000 a year, and the campaign finds someone who actually fits that profile to sign and send in the letter, well, call me a jaded inside-the-beltway type, but I don’t have a problem with that.

On preview, that’s what Rrhythmdvl’s quote seems to imply.