October 17, 2005

The Astroturf-ing of Ann Coulter

Here's a story I wrote for the Columbia Journalism Review, click below to read the rest...


If letters to the editor are like a home-cooked meal, then Capitol Advantage, the country's largest e-mail lobbying firm, is the McDonald's of grassroots public opinion: massive, mechanized, and a little synthetic.

The company guides e-mail missiles for over 1,300 clients, from the ACLU to the NRA. "We're seeing the whole concept of online advocacy campaigns change," says CEO Barkley Kern. "People still contact politicians, but now they see the value of contacting the media."

Here's a recent example of its power: When Ann Coulter called the senior White House correspondent Helen Thomas an "old Arab" in a February column, the American-Arab Antidiscrimination Committee (ADC) sprang into action, loading Coulter's phone number and the e-mail address of Universal Press Syndicate, which distributes Coulter's column, into a digital form. Ten minutes later, Capitol Advantage had delivered the e-mail to 15,000 ADC subscribers. In less than two weeks, the release had generated 600 protest e-mails, two articles in the Detroit Free Press, and support from twenty members of Congress.

Not bad for a quick cut-and pastejob. Capitol Advantage says it seeded over 18 million "constituent messages" last year alone. But the tactic can backfire.

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