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Right Denounces Online Tactics It Uses Every Day

March 30, 2009

Across the right-wing blogosphere, red meat reactionary Andrew Breitbart is being hailed as a visionary hero for his call to arms, "online activists on the right, unite!" In his jeremiad, Breitbart warns that a "digital war has broken out, and the conservative movement is losing" and insists the right's "embrace of Judeo-Christian ideals" has prevented it from adopting its opponent's "propaganda techniques that were perfected in godless communist and socialist regimes." Of course, from astroturfing and paid blog commenters to purchased pundits and online intimidation, it is the conservative movement which has long practiced the guerrilla tactics Breitbart claims to decry.
Breitbart's projection starts with "astroturfing" and organized "blog trolling" by which ersatz grassroots momentum is manufactured:

"Read the comment sections of right-leaning blogs, news sites and social forums, and the evidence is there in ugly abundance. Internet hooligans are spewing their talking points to thwart the dissent of the newly-out-of-power."

Picking up the meme, The Other McCain bemoaned "Obama's Astroturf blog-troll army" which during the campaign he insisted was "apparently paid to do this."
Ironically, it was the real McCain who pioneered this practice during the 2008 election season. As the Washington Post reported in August:

Spread John McCain's official talking points around the Web -- and you could win valuable prizes!
That, in essence, is the McCain campaign's pitch to supporters to join its new online effort, one that combines the features of "AstroTurf" campaigning with the sort of customer-loyalty programs offered by airlines, hotel chains, restaurants and the occasional daily newspaper.
On McCain's Web site, visitors are invited to "Spread the Word" about the presumptive Republican nominee by sending campaign-supplied comments to blogs and Web sites under the visitor's screen name. The site offers sample comments ("John McCain has a comprehensive economic plan . . .") and a list of dozens of suggested destinations, conveniently broken down into "conservative," "liberal," "moderate" and "other" categories. Just cut and paste.

While he was the target of a campaign of web-based and email rumors that he was a secret Muslim, not a U.S. citizen or even the Anti-Christ, Barack Obama in Breitbart's telling is being protected by an online, left-wing praetorian guard which aims to ensure that the 44th president "is not subject to the same coordinated, facts-be-damned, multimedia takedown they employed over eight long years to destroy the presidency - and the humanity - of George W. Bush."
But while Breitbart claims that for the left, "the ends justify the means for them - now more than ever," online intimidation remains a principal tactic of the right. Michelle Malkin provides a case in point.
While Fox News host Bill O'Reilly routinely sends his video crews to harass his critics, Malkin's forte is providing their personal information online to speed web-based retribution. Her efforts helped generate right-wing rage and even death threats directed towards UC Santa Cruz students, the family of 12 year old SCHIP recipient Graeme Frost and a host of others. (As it turned out, the campaign against the Frosts was aided and abetted by a staffer for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.)
Perhaps the greatest irony in Breitbart's defense of "the humanity of George W. Bush" is the 43rd president's innovations in the very tactics the Washington Times columnist decries. Insisting that "political leftists play for keeps," Breitbart claims that conservatives are not "willing to lie, perform deceptive acts in a coordinated fashion and do so in a wicked way - all in the pursuit of victory." Why?

The answer is obvious. The right, for the most part, embraces basic Judeo-Christian ideals and would not promote nor defend the propaganda techniques that were perfected in godless communist and socialist regimes...
"This is nothing more than the Internet version of Soviet disinformation," Human Events editor Jed Babbin told me.

Of course, Soviet-style disinformation techniques were precisely those prized by George W. Bush to "catapult the propaganda." The Potemkin President, after all, paid pundits including Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher to regurgitate Bush White House talking points in their columns. While Bush answered only scripted questions at events limited to his supporters, his FEMA director deployed his own staff to pose as reporters during press conferences. Meanwhile, at EPA, NASA, FDA and the Interior Department (among others), Bush political appointees doctored documents and censored conclusions that threatened to undermine their twin agendas of radical deregulation and pandering to the Republican Party's social conservative base.
Through it all, the right-wing blogosphere was the perfect echo chamber, applauding President Bush and helping conduct virtual witch hunts online of those daring to dissent against him. (Bush didn't just invite right-wing radio hosts to the White House; Powerline's John Hinderaker describes a meeting of conservative bloggers with the man he likened to "a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another.")
For his part, Andrew Breitbart denounced the "goons and liars that have poisoned the political process and won the American presidency by breaking the rules of fair play" before letting loose with a rebel yell:

"It is time to fight back, but it won't be easy. The enemy is willing to do and say anything in order to win."

Readers could be forgiven for assuming he was looking in the mirror at the time.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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