Yellow Astroturf: Why Do Media Allow Political Operatives to Hide Their Affiliations?

One of the most frustrating aspects of public discourse is the extent to which the media allows political operators to hide their affiliations and agenda. From ballot propositions which create the illusion that the intent is the opposite of what it actually is to astroturfing to paid operatives pretending to be "concerned citizens," the system is rife with subterfuge of the kind your would expect mainstream journalism to object to, if not actively seek out and expose. (There was a time when such things were called "news.") Unfortunately, such things are left to alternative media and blogs these days, which tend not to reach the average Joe and Jane who are busy job hunting and moving out of their foreclosed homes. Here's one example from The Orlando Weekly:  

[T]he Orlando Sentinel published [an] opinion piece this weekend called "The health-care debate deserves and honest forum" under the auspices of its "New Voices" demographic olive branch: "a forum for readers under 30." Sure, fine, this is where young upstarts are meant to bloviate for 600 words or so about current events that they typically have no control over, because, well, their hair isn't graying yet. It's a harmless bit of Weekly Reader-dom designed to assuage a certain segment of the ad-perusing public and give "power" to the "kids." Harmless. The problem with this Sept. 5 piece, located on page A19, was that it didn't really appear out of the thin air of youthful concern, but rather out of the the typing fingers of a known Republican operative, Kristen Soltis. Soltis -- as it is partially pointed out in print, but not online -- is the director of policy research for the conservative Winston Group in Washington D.C., and also former intern for the National Republican Congressional Committee who has been known to blog. Sure, she came up in these parts -- "I was born and raised in Orlando, graduated from Cypress Creek High School and the University of Florida, and moved to the nation's capital after college," she writes, "... to see how policy is made and change, implemented" -- but even from D.C. she feels herself qualified to comment on the nasty Democrat-"stacked" health-care town hall held by U.S. Rep Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, last month at that grimy union hall. Health care reform is bad! Democrats are evil! She wasn't there. She isn't even a registered voter in Orange County. She is, therefore, a young expert.

You can read Soltis' op-ed here and see for yourself if it appears that she is just a concerned constituent who is upset that Alan Grayson didn't allow his town hall to become a gun toting, right wing freakshow. (Besides, Grayson is a Democrat --- is it not expected that most of the people who come to his town halls are Democrats?) The Orlando Sentinel, which published this GOP propaganda is a Republican paper hostile to Grayson. And they have a perfect right to publish their own editorials excoriating him if they want to. But hiding behind the skirts of some youthful GOP up and comer in DC, pretending that she is just a little hometown gal standing up for her values, is just plain deceitful. Not that it's working particularly well. The GOP can't find anyone to run against Grayson:

House Republicans have an opening now, and they’ve lost so many seats the last two cycles that there are many places where they need to land a recruit. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) has spent much of his first eight months in office giving the GOP ammunition to use in 2010, but there is still no major opponent to run against him. Republicans will almost surely get someone formidable, but it’s mildly troubling that nobody major is raising money yet against one of the wealthiest members of Congress.

"Troubling?" To whom? I would guess that the reason nobody wants to mess with Grayson isn't that he's rich. It's that he's popular. And he's popular because he is taking on the banks and Wall Street in a way that pleases people across party lines. (Seriously, if you want some modern bipartisanship, Grayson is leading the way. Unfortunately, the malefactors of great wealth's political lackeys are also bipartisan ...)

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