Media Came Down Hard on Pro-Iraq War 'Ellie Light'-like Tactic in 2003

Managing Editor's Note: The following was originally published at Greyhawk's Mudville Gazette blog on January 25, 2010.

Wow - growing evidence that multiple identical letters appearing in multiple different newspapers under multiple names implies some sort of astroturf campaign. I'm shocked, shocked I tell you, at this development.

The story of "Ellie Light" was exposed in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer and Politico, but from there it has really taken off in the blogosphere and Facebook - with the numbers of "Ellie Light" sightings now above 60, and new examples of similar campaigns being identified fast and furiously.

Just wait 'til the even bigger news sites discover this story. I don't have to wonder what will happen - I know - and whoever launched these various letter-writing campaigns should be well aware of what's coming, too. After all, it's happened before, and not long ago... (screen wavers, fades out... and...)


...back in, to 2003:

The letters appeared in roughly 12 newspapers across the country. From Massachusetts to California, and many places in between, family members and local newspapers received letters from soldiers of the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Infantry Regiment detailing their successes in northern Iraq.

Each letter was signed by a different soldier, but the words were identical...

Here's a surviving copy of the infamous letter. It was huge news in October, 2003. That quote above is from ABC News, but here's coverage from CBS, the New York Times, and even the BBC (and we could go on).

The story (remarkably identical in original numbers to our news of today) of this earth shattering fraud was blown open in USA Today, when a sharp-eyed reporter "found identical letters in 11 newspapers."

It's not clear who wrote the letter or organized sending it to soldiers' hometown papers. If they are part of an organized effort to sway public opinion, it could raise ethical questions for the military, whose officers are trained to refrain from partisan politics.

Ultimately in an e-mail to ABC news a battalion commander in Iraq confessed that the letter-writing initiative was all his idea, but claimed he just wanted to give his soldiers "an opportunity to let their respective hometowns know what they are accomplishing here in Kirkuk." Fortunately the real plan in which he was participating (willingly or not) - to destroy the very foundation of American democracy - failed as a result of the heroic efforts of the global mainstream media watchdog.

The commander was unapologetic, ABC reported, "saying that the letter perfectly reflects what each of these brave soldiers has and continues to accomplish on the ground." In fact, in their story ABC even acknowledged that "Kirkuk has seen improvement over the past several months, and is far less violent than other areas of Iraq" - and even the original USA Today story acknowledged that the soldiers they contacted "directly or through their families said they agreed with the letter's thrust." But the evil intent behind the campaign was made clear - and it went far beyond the level of a lowly battalion commander: "The Bush administration is engaged in a broad campaign to boost what polls show is sagging public support for the occupation in Iraq" - and obviously they were willing to stoop so low as to use the troops in Iraq to do their dirty work for them.

"Firm endorsements of the letter's description of the situation in Kirkuk have since been re-registered by most of the soldiers who were supposed to have written letters," explained the editors of the New York Times, "but that matters little to anyone who ever marched in the military command system." I shudder at the thought of what we owe those courageous reporters, of how close we came to the end of freedom as we know it, and the complete destruction of all that we hold dear.

And I'm sure that soon enough we're going to see a similar response to this latest outrage. With over 60 "Ellie Light" letters identified, multiple "Mark Spiveys," and who knows how many additional discoveries over the past week I'm certain the dam is ready to break - the identical letter from 11 GIs in their hometown papers seems to pale in comparison. For now the only further "mainstream media" coverage is in a blog on the website of the LA Times. But hell hath no fury as a news reporter who discovers he - and his entire profession - has been duped - used even, by the evil machinations of the powers that be. And I'm certain that the explosion is coming.

Any minute now.

Update: if the Chillicothe Gazette and the Green Bay Press Gazette have addressed the story, can the New York Times, ABC, CBS, and the BBC be far behind?