When I wrote a Hot Type column a couple of weeks ago lashing the Republican National Committee for its campaign to get the faithful to send newspapers automated, prewritten letters championing the president, I fortunately added the caveat that the GOP isn’t the only culprit. That column hadn’t even hit the streets when Bruce Dold, who edits the Tribune‘s editorial pages, alerted me that it was happening again and this time the left was responsible. The Tribune had gotten a couple of letters that began, “It’s deja vu all over again. The Bush administration, having mired us in a war in Iraq, is now preparing an attack on Iran.” The letters then lashed the media for “echoing unconfirmed allegations” that Iran was smuggling bombs into Iraq. “Have we learned nothing from the last run-up to war?”
Dold had no intention of publishing either of these letters, but he wondered where they were coming from.
The answer is CodePink, a national women’s peace organization based in California. Its Web site asserts, “We need to tell the press that now is the time to ask serious questions instead of blindly supporting the administration’s headlong rush into another tragic and unnecessary war. Please contact media outlets and tell them we demand a critical, vigilant press. Click here to send your letter now!” Three clicks later you will have chosen a newspaper and will now be facing the letter text CodePink has already written for you. One more click and off it goes. One of the letters the Tribune got was from novelist Sara Paretsky. “I changed the headline and rewrote the text,” she says, “but their program apparently would only send their text.”
So nothing could be simpler–and few blows struck for peace will have less impact. CodePink cofounder Jodie Evans in Venice, California, told me that about 3,000 people had “clicked through” and sent the letter. She had no idea how many papers had published it. About a dozen, according to my computer search, most of them tiny. Generating these letters is increasingly a losing proposition. If a paper gets the letter from just one reader it might print it–for what that’s worth. If it gets it from lots of readers–thereby showing the paper how high feelings are running in the grassroots (that’s the theory)–or even from two readers, the game is up.