Times flooded with faxes as Rall roils right-wingers
A fax machine at The Aspen Times was deluged last week with more than 100 form letters from a conservative online lobby group demanding the paper stop publishing the work of liberal political columnist and cartoonist Ted Rall. The Times publishes Rall’s syndicated column “Gen-X-rated,” which is marketed as representing the political views of a disenfranchised younger generation, every Tuesday. His columns are openly liberal and harsh in their criticism of the Bush administration.The letters of complaint, which arrived en masse Thursday and Friday, were identically worded and called for the removal of Rall’s work on the grounds that it is “melodramatically ideological, simple-headed, snarling, and tasteless.” The letters were sent by “laptoplobbyist.com” with the subhead “America’s First and Foremost Online Conservative Community.” Speaking from his home in New York City, Rall was typically defiant, saying the form letters were the result of a cyberspace subculture that has created a “Borglike hive-mind of reactionary Republicans.”Chris Carmouche of Kansas City, a board member of laptoplobbyist.com, said the letters were part of the organization’s weekly “action initiative.” Each week the organization sends form letters on behalf of its members to different policy makers and publications.”The idea [of the action initiative] is to give conservative citizens the chance to wage Web warfare, to reach policy makers,” Carmouche said. “It gives us a way to get our members directly involved in lobbying.”Other laptoplobbyist.com action initiatives have included letter campaigns in protest of the movie “Bad Santa” and in support of a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriages, according to Carmouche.Rall, who is also an editorial cartoonist, said he is no stranger to letters of complaint – he received 9,000 e-mails in response to one cartoon. But he said he places little stock in form letters.”Stuff like this is the result of a point-and-click, blogger subculture,” he said. “It’s only something that started when the Bush administration took power. The right is reactionary. They like to indulge in censorship. The First Amendment is not really their friend.”The form letters to the Times were also sent to 14 other papers that publish Rall, as well as the Universal Press Syndicate, which edits and distributes Rall’s work. Universal Press Syndicate Editor Lee Salem said mass postings from online political groups are common and mostly ignored.”It’s not the first time we’ve received this type of thing both from people on the left and people on the right,” Salem said. “We don’t base [our judgment of Rall] on reader reaction but on how we think he is doing based on what we agreed the feature would be.”Salem confirmed that Rall’s cartoon was dropped by MSNBC.com after Web editors received a swath of form letters criticizing his cartoon about slain NFL star and Army Ranger Pat Tillman. Rall suggested TIllman was an “idiot” who enlisted for the chance to “kill some Arabs.””MSNBC dropped Ted after the Tillman incident because of an effort like this,” Salem said. “But that was a different situation. MSNBC took a direct feed from us, which meant none of Ted’s work was screened by a local editor. Most papers can decide not to run certain things.”Salem said none of the papers that received the laptoplobbyist.com letters have decided to drop Rall’s work. The Aspen Times will continue to publish his column every Tuesday.Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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