Astroturfing on the Campaign Trail
(bumped - Welcome Kevin Drum readers! I have no idea why typing "firefightersforrudy" into the Firefox browser automatically redirects you to my site, but I'm going to ride the wave while it lasts. Let's get the word out about this astroturfing!)
Greg Sargent has been very skeptical of this "Firefighters for Rudy" group that has magically appeared in the wake of the negative press surrounding the IAFF's very public slamming of Giuliani and how he treated firefighters in the wake of 9-11.
Public condemnation from the nation's biggest firefighter's union is the most damaging thing that could ever happen to Giuliani's candidacy; it strikes him at his very strength. So he rebutted it with a letter from "Firefighters for Rudy," led by an executive director named "Tim Brown."
Tim Brown works for the Giuliani campaign. Furthermore, they appear to have been formed... today.
Here is Sargent's initial report about "Firefighters for Rudy."
This morning, in what may be a sign that it recognizes the danger of the story, the Rudy camp struck back. It emailed out to reporters a letter it had sent to "Americas firefighters." It was written by one Lee Ielpi, who is described as a retired firefighter and who took the union to task for criticizing Rudy.
"There is no one who respects firefighters and first responders more than Rudy Giuliani," Ielpi writes. "Those of us who have worked with him know that Rudy Giuliani has always been a steadfast and unrelenting supporter of firefighters and first responders."
Intriguingly, the letter was sent out by Tim Brown, who is described as the Executive Director of a group called "Firefighters for Rudy."
This, of course, raises a few questions that we will be seeking answers to. Has "Firefighters for Rudy" been in existence for longer than 24 hours, or did it spring Athena-like from that great Rudy forehead at around the time that the Rudy campaign heard that the bad stories were being put together? How many members does "Firefighters for Rudy" have? Etc.
If you Google "Firefighters for Rudy," you only get back articles that were written today. There's a Firefighters 4 Rudy Yahoo! Group with three members. The domain FirefightersForRudy.com is claimed by "Tim Brown," but nothing's on it.
Sargent kept doing some digging:
The idea, obviously, was that this "group" of firefighters is countering the fire union's claims. So all we want to know is the following: When was this group formed? And how many members does it have? A Google search turned up nothing at all illuminating. So we left detailed questions about the group's formation and membership with the Giuliani campaign's communications director about it. No answer yet.
Also intriguing: For some reason, even though the group's executive director, Tim Brown, is offered as a contact on the release, when you call the number offered you get directed to the Rudy campaign press office. When you ask for Brown, you're directed to a press officer.
Sargent then finds a report in "Firefighting News" that lists executive director Tim Brown as an aide to Giuliani.
It's pretty clear at this point that what we have is an astroturf group hastily assembled by the Giuliani campaign to counteract the IAFF story. And Sargent pretty much confirms that with this hilarious phone call:
We just reached Tim Brown, the executive director of Firefighters for Rudy, by calling the phone number accompanying this info about registration of the domain name, which notes that the name was taken out in August of 2006. It sounded like the guy's cell phone.
At any rate, when we asked Brown if he was the executive director of Firefighters for Rudy, he said that he was. When we asked if he was an aide on the campaign, he paused for awhile before saying, "yeah." When we asked him what his title on the campaign was, he said -- you guessed it -- "executive director of Firefighters for Rudy."
So we then posed the question of how many members it has. At that point, he said he was going to have "other folks" get back to us.
Now, Brown is a retired New York firefighter. But "Firefighters for Rudy" doesn't exist. Or at least it didn't until needed to help Giuliani defend himself against his own record. It's interesting, too, that the domain was taken out in August, as if they knew that one day, they would be needed to spring into action. It just happened to quickly for them to build the cover needed to distance the campaign from this fake grassroots organization.
UPDATE: Unbelievable. AP writes a story that cites Tim Brown as the head of "Firefighters for Rudy." Not that he's a Giuliani campaign aide - just that he's the head of "Firefighters for Rudy."
I'm officially the head of "Low-Level Bloggers For Truth In Citation Of Sources," then. (call a blogger ethics panel)