Monday, February 26, 2007

Appeal for Redress and Astroturfing

According to Media Research Center, 60 Minutes ran a segment last night on what it declares to be "new opposition" to the war in Iraq by a "large group of soldiers." But as NewsBusters points out, the story is neither new nor large.

On Friday, Logan previewed her 60 Minutes story about a relatively minuscule number of servicemen who have signed a petition from an organization called "Appeal for Redress," a group formed last year and which delivered some petitions to Congress way back on January 16. Logan announced how "over a thousand servicemen and women have done something normally unthinkable for the military: protest the war they're in the middle of fighting....They've all sent a petition called 'Appeal for Redress' to their individual members of Congress letting them know that 'staying in Iraq will not work,' and it's 'time for U.S. troops to come home.'" Logan's piece featured soundbites from three soldiers, but none were identified by her or on screen. The page previewing the story, however, includes names as did the subsequent Sunday night piece on 60 Minutes.

In short, the story is an old one by media standards and the group is a tiny fraction of the military men and women who have served in Iraq (I made this point, btw, in a thread at another blog back in January when this was a real story).

Worse still, Appeal for Redress isn't even a real grassroots organization. According to Greyhawk at Mudville Gazette, points to a October 26, 2006 story in the New York Sun which reports that
a company that does public relations for the liberal activist political action committee, Fenton Communications, organized a conference call for reporters and three active-duty soldiers to unveil the soldiers' anti-war group Appeal for Redress.

According to its Web site, Appeal for Redress is seeking signatures of active-duty soldiers for a petition that reads in part, "As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq."

As Greyhawk points out, this technique is called Astroturfing.
In politics and advertising, the term astroturfing describes formal public relations (PR) campaigns that 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.

The goal of such a campaign is to disguise the agenda of a client as an independent public reaction to some political entity—a politician, political group, product, service, event. Astroturfers attempt to orchestrate the actions of apparently diverse and geographically distributed individuals, by both overt ("outreach," "awareness," etc.) and covert (disinformation) means. Astroturfing may be undertaken by anything from an individual pushing their own personal agenda through to highly organised professional groups with financial backing from large corporations.

Apparently, major media outlets can't tell the difference between the fake and the real, but then, this isn't surprising given their reporting of the war in Iraq.

Greyhawk has more of the seedy background on this story.