Thereâs an interesting new story making the rounds about letters to the editor from soldiers in northern Iraq showing up in local and regional newspapers around the country. The letters explain how things are much better than people think in Iraq and how the Army is helping to rebuild the country with support from the locals.
The only problem is that itâs the same letter --- the identical
letter --- showing up in multiple newspapers over the names of at least a dozen different soldiers. The blogger whoâs on top of this is âHesiod
â whoâs been on the story for a few days. And The Olympian
, from Olympia, Washington, reported the story
out in helpful detail yesterday.
This is just one example. And the search seemed to have been triggered when The Olympian
got two copies of the letter from two hometown soldiers stationed in northern Iraq. In other words, I doubt this is the only example -- just the one where someone got caught.
Itâs worth saying that most of the soldiers contacted by the paper said they agreed with its contents, though none of them said they wrote it, and one said heâd never even signed it. But clearly that doesnât answer the mystery of who was behind the letter writing campaign.
I can imagine all sorts of different scenarios behind it --- including this being the innocent, but over-eager effort of a single Army public affairs officer somewhere in northern Iraq.
But thereâs another possibility that deserves a serious look.
There are a number of firms in Washington whose business it is to orchestrate phony letter writing campaigns on behalf of pricey clients.
Usually, the gig works something like this. Say youâre the hot dog makers lobby and congress is fixing to hit you with some new regs about hot dog making. Letâs say itâs something truly outlandish like requiring you to include some meat in the product.
If you go up to the hill with your gripes as the National Hot Dog Makers Association you might not do so well. And your ideological compatriots in the media might not be able to get up much of a head of steam banging the table for a bunch of hot dog magnates. So you call up one of the phony letter writing firms --- letâs call one hypothetical outfit The Former Republican Communications Staffers and Speechwriters Group of Washington.
So you go to FRCSSGW. They find out what your beef is and they write up a letter to the editor. Then they go out and find some guy who runs a hot dog stand downtown in some major city and ask him if heâll sign it for a few hundred bucks. Maybe money changes hands; maybe it doesnât. It depends on the circumstances. Then they take that letter and find some newspaper to print it.
Local newspapers are usually easier to bamboozle than the big national ones --- though at least one major national paper is known to be an easy mark for phony letters with an appealing ideological tilt.
The letter usually has the nominal author of the letter telling congress that those woeful new regulations will make it impossible for an independent hot dog vendor to stay in business, etc., etc., etc.
Voila! Suddenly those new hot dogs regs arenât just an annoyance to the hot dog makers. Theyâre a new burden to some struggling immigrant entrepreneur whoâs trying to build his American dream one dog at a time.
Iâd be curious to find out whether some outfit like our hypothetical Former Republican Communications Staffers and Speechwriters Group of Washington is doing some of their letter-campaign consulting for the White House or the Pentagon as part of the Great Push-Back