Playing Devil's Advocate On The Astroturfing Story

Well, so far we have the standard, predictable responses to the Jawa Report’s investigation into just who might be behind the Palin smear video: “there’s no absolute proof! The whole thing is ludicrous! This is just another Rethuglican/Karl Rove false flag story!”

Now, I’m no great investigator, but I think I do have enough of an intellect to take a look at the facts laid out by Rusty and crew and run them through the conspiracy theories.

Here are the facts, as laid out by Rusty:

* Evidence suggests that a YouTube video with false claims about Palin was uploaded and promoted by members of a professional PR firm.

* The family that runs the PR firm has extensive ties to the Democratic Party, the netroots, and are staunch Obama supporters.

* Evidence suggests that the firm engaged in a concerted effort to distribute the video in such a way that it would appear to have gone viral on its own. Yet this effort took place on company time.

* Evidence suggests that these distribution efforts included actions by at least one employee of the firm who is unconnected with the family running the company.

* The voice-over artist used in this supposedly amateur video is a professional.

* This same voice-over artist has worked extensively with David Axelrod’s firm, which has a history of engaging in phony grassroots efforts, otherwise known as “astroturfing.”

* David Axelrod is Barack Obama’s chief media strategist.

* The same voice-over artist has worked directly for the Barack Obama campaign.

So, let’s suppose that I wanted to put this video together myself, to implicate these folks and, by making such an attack on Palin supposedly in their name, discredit them and help the McCain-Palin ticket, what would I have to do?

First off, I’d have to make the video. I know diddly about video production, so while it looks pretty damned good to me, I’ll say that any decent video jockey with a good home setup could put it together. So that’s no problem.

Then, I’d need the voiceover artist. I’d have to either hire the same woman who has done plenty of work for David Axelrod’s firm, including at least one spot for Obama, or a woman who sounds so much like her that it’s virtually indistinguishable.

Then I’d need to get some good info on who I could frame to behind the video. I’d need names and other personal information so I could create accounts at YouTube and other places in their names for my framing, and hope like hell they hadn’t already registered those names as accounts.

I’d have to pick my targets for the framing very, very carefully. I’d have to choose people all within the same company that COULD produce my video, but wouldn’t have airtight alibis for making the videos and would not immediately run to the police and file complaints for defamation.

More specifically, I’d have to be very, very, very lucky that Mr. Ethan S. Winner has several accounts around the web under that name, but NOT at YouTube, where that name would be up for grabs for my nefarious purposes. And even more fortunately, Mr. Winner has lengthy involvements with Democratic politics, so he’s the ideal patsy.

I’d also have to set up another YouTube account, “cnwinner,” in the name of Charles N. Winner, Ethan Winner’s father and boss at the firm that I am setting up to take the fall.

Then I’ve got to get the word out. I’d have to find a third employee of Winner who has an account with a very distinctive name at some site and use him or her. I’d find, somehow, that Jared Liu-Klein of Winner is registered as “stickyfngz” at Then I’d have to set up a Democratic Underground user account in that name to start pushing the video.

The tipping off the Nutroots part is easy. A few throwaway e-mail accounts is all you need to feed the morons at Daily Kos, Jesus’ General, and others. This is “red meat,” confirming their prejudices, so they’ll bite on it without question.

I’d also have to be monitoring the net for the first signs that my plot was beginning to unravel (at least, enough to be pointing at my targeted victims) and start pulling all the evidence down as soon as it started getting the “wrong” kind of attention. That, alone, takes some serious resources.

My whole plot hinges on several key points: finding the perfect patsies with the perfect confluence of motive, means, and opportunity to produce this video who won’t loudly scream their innocence and drag the authorities into the story immediately to clear their names, who won’t have ready evidence to counter the scenario I’ve constructed, who won’t have the legal wit or web fu to exonerate themselves and trace the whole mess back to me. And I’ll have to engineer my scam perfectly, without a single error or revealing mistake that would point me out as the nefarious mastermind out to besmirch the Winner name for my own political purposes.

When that is taken into consideration, and weighed against the attempted rebuttals — such as “are they so arrogant and so stupid as to put their REAL FIRST INITIALS AND LAST NAMES on this thing?” and “they wouldn’t use the SAME WOMAN WHO READ OBAMA ADS FOR THEM!” — still seem implausible, but far, far more likely than the alternative described above.

No, Rusty doesn’t have a “smoking gun” on this one.

Not yet.

But the astonishing chain of coincidences he’s strung together are far, far more convincing than the sheer scope of the conspiracy needed to engineer them deliberately.

Any single part of such a conspiracy could be pulled off. For all of them to happen, flawlessly, with not a single person leaking a hint of it, beggars the imagination.

Even mine.

I’m sold. Unless some truly remarkable exculpatory evidence comes out, as far as I’m concerned, Winner and Publicis are guilty as hell — and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Axelrod’s hand was in here somewhere, too.

That’s David Axelrod, one of the top people in Obama’s campaign — for now.

McCain Campaign Manager Steve Schmidt on the New York Times
Sometimes, In The Deafening Silence, You Hear Most Clearly