Bozell Column: The 'Ellie Light' Scandal
The declining (or is it dying?) newspaper industry has suffered another blow to its image as punctilious skeptic with the motto "If your mother says she loves you, check it out." It turns out a pile of American newspapers can’t manage to check out the most basic information about people who are flat-out using their pages to push political agendas.
A person with the name of "Ellie Light" has been successfully published with the same letter in at least 68 newspapers defending President Obama – defrauding the editors by using local addresses. Reports have "her" published in two papers overseas.
Who is "Ellie Light"? We know this much: "She" is a fraud.
Is this an official White House or Organizing for America campaign? Is it simply a dirty trick? Is this brass-knuckles (and dishonest) politics from the DNC? Or an unauthorized Obama groupie? Some investigating conservative bloggers have found several candidates for the mysterious "Light" writer that could be connected to Obama.
But the liberal pro-Obama media won't address this. This story hurts Obama, so they'll spike it. Count on that.
The media should care. Remember how upset they were at "video news releases" being offered as real news by the Bush administration? And how they fulminated against P.R. firms being paid by the Pentagon to report the good news to the people of Iraq? If this astroturf can be connected to Team Obama, then newspapers should do the connecting.
The "Light" chain letter was loaded with excuses for Obama. "Today, the president is being attacked as if he were a salesman who promised us that our problems would wash off in the morning," said a version of Light's letter in the Chillicothe (Ohio) Gazette, claiming a Chillicothe residence. "He never made such a promise. Its time for Americans to realize governing is hard work and that a president can't just wave a magic wand and fix everything."
The Cleveland Plain Dealer blew the whistle on the Ellie Light scandal. "She" lied about "her" location more than discredited reporter Jayson Blair of the New York Times, and may have lied more about "her" identity than "Anonymous" Joe Klein, the author of "Primary Colors." The story was an Internet sensation: in fact, it was the hottest article ever launched on the Plain Dealer website at Cleveland.com.
"Miss Light" demonstrated that liberals apparently care more about results than about troublesome notions like honesty. She complained about being caught by Sabrina Eaton, a Plain Dealer reporter from Washington: "I'm sure such domesticity and small-mindedness would make Sarah Palin quite proud."
"Light" made no serious attempt to reply about her dishonest addresses when questioned by Eaton. Instead, "she" just made more political proclamations: "The letter I wrote was motivated by surprise and wonderment at the absence of any media support for our President, who won a record-breaking election by a landslide less than 18 months ago, and now, seems to be abandoned by all, supposedly for the infantile reason that he couldn't make all of Bush's errors disappear in a day."
No one should let the errors of these 68 newspapers disappear in a day, either.
Some newspaper editors might make excuses about their sloppiness. In a recession, with newspapers facing layoffs, perhaps they think readers should sympathize if they don’t have a staff person devoted to verifying the addresses of letters to the editor. But how hard is this? It doesn’t take eight hours a day to verify the handful of letters these newspapers publish daily. An intern could do this before lunchtime.
You cannot escape the truth. These newspapers – dozens of them – were caught with their ethical pants down.
Some might argue that "Ellie Light" may not be a member of the local community, but her sentiments could be understood as representative of the Obama-loving segment of the population. Newspapers are best advised not to go there, especially when they are on the verge of collapse. If newspaper editors are going to band together to work on the problem of credibility with their audience, they’re going to have to convince readers that real people in their communities are writing the letters.
Some media analysts suggest that the traditional letters-to-the-editors page is devolving in the age of the Internet, where the commenters are routinely anonymous or use phony names. Are newspapers lowering their standards to the Internet era? If so, it’s bizarre that the Old Media continuously lecture the New Media for their lack of professionalism when they are failing to accomplish even the most basic accuracy and fact-checking.
The "Ellie Light" scandal was also broken in the newly accountable era of the Internet: the Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter started it all with a simple Google search.