Last year we exposed the critical role of PR firm the Bivings Group in Monsanto's covert internet campaign against its scientific and environmental critics, involving the use of fake citizens and fake organisations.

Now the firm's involvement in defending Dubya's programmes at the behest of the Republican National Committee has been exposed.

"The Web site was designed by the Bivings Group, a media consultancy firm renowned for producing "Astroturf" political campaigns. The term, a play on the word "grassroots," refers to the manufacture of seemingly authentic public support."

No wonder we gave Gary Bivings, along with Monsanto and CS Prakash, a pants of the year award:
Brandon Keim: 'Insincerely yours: Conservative activists plant form letters'
Friday, June 06 @ 09:49:38 EDT

Readers of the Letters section of Time magazine's May 26 issue may recall a heartfelt defense of President Bush's economic guidance, penned by one Thomas J. Stokes of Fredonia, NY. "Creating jobs and fostering economic growth need to be our No. 1 national priorities," wrote Stokes. "President Bush recognizes this and has delivered a jobs-and-growth plan that will create 1.4 million new jobs in the next two years. Twelve Senate Democrats understood the important impact tax relief has on growing our economy when Bush's tax plan was passed into law. Why are Senate Democrats ignoring their previous support for tax reduction and its economic impact? They should line up behind the president and give the economy the boost it sorely needs. Cutting taxes is the right thing to do to grow the economy."

Fair enough. Readers of a different political persuasion than Mr. Stokes might be tempted to point out that, using President Bush's own figures - $726 billion in tax cuts - each new job created would cost around half a million dollars, which hardly seems like an efficient way to "grow the economy." But that is beside the point. Mr. Stokes was certainly entitled to his opinion. There is no doubting that his words reflected the sentiments of a great many Americans.


During the month of May, the exact same letter appeared under a variety of names in a number of publications, from the San Francisco Chronicle and USA Today to the Kalamazoo Gazette and Money Magazine. Needless to say, Mr. Stokes was not the "author" of all those letters.

The text was actually provided by GOP Team Leader, a quasi-grassroots organization run by the Republican National Committee. After its introduction during President Bush's campaign in 2000 - when aspiring leaders were creepily encouraged to make notes, for demographic purposes, of Democrats and Independents who recently moved into their neighborhoods - the program went online early last year. The Web site was designed by the Bivings Group, a media consultancy firm renowned for producing "Astroturf" political campaigns. The term, a play on the word "grassroots," refers to the manufacture of seemingly authentic public support. However, unlike front groups for the tobacco or agricultural biotechnology industries, GOP Team Leader taps into some very real popular sentiment - albeit in a top-down, Brown Shirt kind of way.

Rather than being unusual, the sneakiness on display in the latest round of letters is standard operating procedure. On the GOP Team Leader Web site, letters are provided ready-made. Below is a box where the writer's name can be "signed"; above are menus used to send the "letter" to a selected newspaper or magazine. According to Republican National Committee Chair Marc Racicot, the procedure has been "fully integrated into the RNC's grassroots network, with the full support of state and local parties."

For having their letters printed, leaders are rewarded with "GOPoints" that can be exchanged for prizes: tote bags, folding chairs, mouse pads and so on. One can only imagine the points earned by Mr. Stokes' placement in Time.

Since that letter represents the current high-water mark of GOP Team Leader chicanery, editorial cartoonist Tom Tomorrow has conducted an online campaign to pressure Time into printing an official acknowledgement and condemnation of what happened. (See Tom's blog, for more information). So far, Time has received over 150 letters. After an initial silence, the publication has responded to readers directly, but not in print:
Thank you for commenting on the letter from Thomas J. Stokes, which appeared in the May 26 Letters column. We included it for balance, since in the same section we also published three letters that were critical of the President. We appreciate your pointing out, however, that Stokes' comments were from a form letter scripted by the Republican National Committee, and we certainly regret having included it in what is indeed meant to be a forum for the comments of individual TIME readers. Form letters are not new, of course, and just as we've resisted granting them space in the past, we assure you that we will be even more vigilant about screening them from here on in.

Which is a step in the right direction - but only a small one. Form letters sponsored by the official leadership of an incumbent party are fundamentally different than those spread by, say, Greenpeace or the NRA. What we are confronted with is direct evidence that the Republican party is formally engaged in a fraudulent campaign designed, in function if not intent, to alter - I might also say pervert or corrupt - our nation's most basic political discourse. Letters to the editor are supposed to reflect the voices of the people, not carefully orchestrated party lines. For the Republican National Committee to be supporting such deception is wrong - even scandalous. It deserves more than "vigilance"; it should be exposed and deplored.

Time's e-mail address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; messages should be CC'd to Tom Tomorrow at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Hop on the computer and let Time know how you feel about the RNC's attempted hijacking of public debate. And make sure to use your own words.

Reprinted from The Boston Weekly Dig:

This article comes from The Smirking Chimp

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Favourite quote of Jay Byrne, Monsanto's former chief internet strategist: ""Think of the internet as a weapon on the table. Either you pick it up or your competitor does, but somebody is going to get killed"