September 22, 2008

Hope, Change, & Lies: Orchestrated "Grassroots" Smear Campaigns & the People that Run Them [Updated]

***Sticky***Scroll past on main page for newer posts***Updates sprinkled throughout post and summarized at end***

TOP OF POST UPDATES: Nailed! Ethan Winner confesses he was behind video!
UPDATE II: Obama campaign denies involvement, says McCain behind accusations. Wrong, we were.
UPDATE 9/23: Second anti-Palin video emerges. This one cleaned up and primed to be put on TV.
UPDATE 9/23 II: Winner & Associates issues statement denying ties to Axelrod "in at least 10 years".
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Extensive research was conducted by the Jawa Report to determine the source of smears directed toward Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Those smears included false allegations that she belonged to a secessionist political party and that she has radical anti-American views.

Our research suggests that a subdivision of one of the largest public relations firms in the world most likely started and promulgated rumors about Sarah Palin that were known to be false. These rumors were spread in a surreptitious manner to avoid exposure.

It is also likely that the PR firm was paid by outside sources to run the smear campaign. While not conclusive, evidence suggests a link to the Barack Obama campaign. Namely:

  • 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.

This suggests that false rumors and outright lies about Sarah Palin and John McCain being spread on the internet are being orchestrated by political partisans and are not an organic grassroots phenomenon led by the left wing fringe. Our findings follow.

WHO PRODUCED THE VIDEO?

[UPDATE: Within 1 hour of posting, "eswinner" has removed all videos from YouTube and began removing any traces of his activities. But we have the video and all relevant websites backed up.

If "eswinner" isn't Ethan Winner of the Publicis Groupe, then why did "eswinner" yank the video so quickly? Or if this was just an innocent homemade ad, then what does he have to hide? You'd think he'd want more attention for it.

I uploaded it to my YouTube acount from the original unwatermarked Google version (see below for explanation) and that is the version you now see embedded below. Here's a screenshot of the "eswinner" account before it was taken down.]

Who is behind this video against Sarah Palin? It alleges:

Sarah Palin was a member of an Anti-American separatist organization.
It claims that Sarah Palin was a member of the Alaskan Independence Party and cites The New York Times for that source. Then it quotes the founder of that Party with some pretty outrageous statements.

But here's what FactCheck.org says about that:

[Sarah Palin] was never a member of the Alaskan Independence Party, a group that wants Alaskans to vote on whether they wish to secede from the United States. She’s been registered as a Republican since May 1982.
And The New York Times was forced to retract their earlier claim that Palin was a member of the party, blaming the error on the party's chair. That retraction was published Sept. 3rd, 8 days before the video was first made publicly available.

Sarah Palin wasn't even physically at the party's convention. The clip you see is part of Palin's videotaped welcome for the convention's opening in which she gives some general remarks about the need for party competition and then tries to draw some common ground on the need to reel in government spending. Hardly evidence of extremism or anti-American sentiment.

In our opinion the Palin smear video appears professionally produced. Especially revealing is the voice over, which has a ring of familiarity to it and which also sounds professional.

If we are correct, that means that someone paid for the ad and for the talent behind it. Yet no one identifies themselves as being behind the video.

Using techniques that we've used in the past to find the identity of online terrorist supporters, the Jawa team went to work trying to figure out who was behind what appeared, in our opinion, to be a professionally orchestrated smear campaign aimed at Sarah Palin with the ultimate goal of electing Barack Obama.

VIOLATION OF FEC RULES?

Federal election law requires that a disclaimer from those paying for campaign ads, "must appear on any "electioneering communication" and on any public communication by any person that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate or solicits funds in connection with a federal election." Even when the ad is not paid for nor coordinated with the candidates election committee, "the disclaimer notice must identify who paid for the message, state that it was not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee and list the permanent street address, telephone number or World Wide Web address of the person who paid for the communication."

No such disclaimer appears on the ad in question. However, "General public political advertising does not include Internet ads, except for communications placed for a fee on another person’s web site." It is not clear to us whether a video is considered an "internet ad" or if the wording only meant to include banner ads or other more common forms of internet advertising.

All of the web only video ads that we could find produced by the Obama campaign carried the disclosure or some other clearly identifiable notice that they were responsible for its content.

It would appear that the ad, while professionally produced, was put on YouTube and then spread in such a way as to make it seem like amateurs had made it and spread it. We can't help but wonder if the missing disclaimer on the video was an intentional exploitation of a loophole meant to distance the people behind the ad from its outright lies?

We also can't help but wonder if maybe those who produced the ad believed that the lack of disclaimer constituted an FEC violation? Which would be an alternative explanation for why they did not wish to be connected to it.

Beyond the disclaimer, though, our reading of FEC regulations suggests that political campaign and 527 groups, such as Moveon.org, are required to report money spent on advertising opposing a candidate for public office. We can find no exception for advertising intended for web only campaigns.

We assume that if some group paid for the production of the video, that it would be reported to the FEC. Not doing so, we believe, would constitute a breach of federal campaign law.

PR FIRM BEHIND THE VIDEO?

The YouTube poster who uploaded the video did so under the account name "eswinner" [BACKUP SCREENSHOT]. He names his channel "AGroupofConcernedAmericans". The goal of his channel, says "eswinner", is:

Offering a fair and unbiased view towards life and politics...

I try to give an unbiased account of all things American.

The video was uploaded four times under the "eswinner" account, using different titles for each video. The video was also uploaded to Google Video on the same day and with the same title.

A Google search of other people using the nickname or account name “eswinner” reveals that someone very interested in yachts also goes by that name. There is, for example, a Picasa page under the account name “eswinner”. I won't link to that page because it also has pictures of his family, but I will include a screenshot here.

picassa_page_eswinner_screenshot.gif

That Picasa page [update: page disappeared] of "eswinner" is used by an "Ethan" advertising on Craig's List that he will rent out his yacht to interested parties. But "Ethan" also leaves his e-mail account: ewinner@winnr.com.

And just what is winnr.com? An alternate dns designation for Winner & Associates. A firm that employs one Ethan S. Winner.

Hundreds of pictures on the Picassa page belonging to "eswinner" show that the page belongs to the same Ethan S. Winner that is employed by the public relations firm of Winner & Associates.

[Update: To clarify, the images are of the whole Winner family, including the many family members who work for the company. But also young children, hence why I did not link the page. But there is no doubt that the "eswinner" who owned the Picassa page is the same Ethan Winner of Winner & Associates. None. I have the images backed up, but because many include images of children, I choose not to show them here.]

Other instances of an "eswinner" or "ewinner" posting on the internet are found sprinkled here and there. All of those postings seem to fit the profile of Ethan S. Winner and suggest that eswinner and Ethan Winner are one and the same.

The company he works for, Winner & Associates, is one of the largest PR firms in the country and part of an even larger international conglomerate Publicis Groupe, which is, "one the world's top 10 advertising and communications firms."

A firm that specializes in "helping companies survive and succeed" a "controversial issue such as a lawsuit, a government investigation, a political protest, a labor dispute, or a defective product or recall."

A firm that also happens to produce TV ads. And owns a number of affiliated firms which do similar work.

These people are professional guns for hire. Looking at their portfolio makes that clear. And they only work for big clients. The kind of clients that pay big bucks. The kind of people hired by Exxon to convince people that the effects of the Valdez spill were over. The kind of people hired to help push through oil fields in Chad and Cameroon or help companies respond to boycott threats over the Beijing Olympics.

The kind of people who would have an in-house attorney to handle PR for Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame. And get them a movie deal.

Also the kind of people hired by the European Union to help sell the new EU treaty. Who was the lead in that effort? Ethan S. Winner.

Winner_Ethan.jpg

In other words, probably not the kind of people who make anti-Palin advertisements with professional voiceovers in their spare time. But also not the kind of people to be averse to running a seemingly grassroots Palin smear campaign .

What I am told by a friend in the business is called "cyber ambuscade" when done by corporations. Apparently it is common practice for corporations to try to plant untraceable rumors about their competitors. In other words some corporations pay professionals to slime the competitors.

While it is clear that W&A are very big guns for hire, those that run it have been strong financial supporters of Democrat candidates and have links to the leftist netroots that first championed Barack Obama.

TIES TO THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY AND LIBERAL CAUSES

This is Charles "Chuck" N. Winner, the President of the company.

chuck_winner.jpg

Charles "Chuck" Winner was once described as:

A revered political consultant, Winner began his career working for California Gov. Pat Brown in 1958; he later worked for President John F. Kennedy. Winner is frequently called upon by a wide range of political groups, candidates and organizations for his unparalleled skills as an adviser, planner and strategic thinker.
Chuck owns $23,000 court-side seats for UCLA basketball. He's the type of guy who own horses that have raced at the Kentucky Derby.

He is a Barack Obama contributor. As are the rest of the Winner & Associate employees who share the family name. Chuck Winner contributed to Obama as early as February of 2007, which means he was a supporter from the beginning.

As have many of the employees of Strategy Workshop, headed by Leslie Song Winner and which once employed Ethan Winner who appears to have been in charge of their internet strategy. Leslie is Charles Winner's former wife, mother of Ethan, and the daughter of Alfred Song--who was California's first Asian-American legislator and a Democrat.

A cursory inquiry into the political contributions of the Winner clan--including Ethan-- also shows that they collectively contributed to: Max Baucus (D-Montana); John Morrison (D-Montana-ran for Senate); Claire McKaskill (D-MO); Democratic National Congressional Committee; Howard Berman (D-CA); Amy Klobuchar (D-MN); Albert Robles (D-CA); Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA); Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee; Sherrod Brown (D-OH); John Kerry (Pres campaign); Chris Dodd (D-CT); Wesley Clark (Presidential campaign); Diane Feinstein (D-CA); Maxine Waters (D-CA); Katrina Swett (D-NH ran against Sununu); John Dingell (D-MI)

Partner in their subsidiary of Winner & Mandabach Campaigns, Paul J. Mandabach, is an Al Franken (DFL-MN) contributor. He also contributed to Hillary, Edwards, Kerry, and Clark.

Notice a pattern here? These aren't just local Democrats, but are big name Democrats in big name races. All over the country.

But more importantly, look who else Charles Winner contributed to: ACTBLUE, "the nation's largest source of funds for Democrats" and which is "particularly favored by the netroots and left-leaning bloggers."

THE SOCKPUPPET GOES CORPORATE

Can we be sure, based on the above, that Ethan S. Winner and/or Winner & Associates was involved in production and/or promotion of the ad? No, but there’s even more evidence than what we've presented so far tending to indicate that Ethan S. Winner, Winner & Associates, and/or the Winner family are connected to this video.

As of the first draft writing of this report (9/12/2008) YouTube user "eswinner" had exactly three subscribers. One of them just happened to create a YouTube account on the very day the video was uploaded: "cnwinner".

cnwinner_youtube_account.gif

[Update: "cnwinner" account vanishes. Here's a screenshot of what it looked like before it went down.


CLICK FOR BIGGER

You'll notice "cnwinner" only had an interest in a single video]

Is “cnwinner” an account created by Charles N. Winner, founder and president of Winner & Associates? If so, that would explain why the age listed by the creator of the “cnwinner” profile [68] generally matches that of published reports on the age of Charles N. Winner.

YouTube user “cnwinner” (Charles N. Winner?) appears to be directly involved in a concerted effort to add legitimacy to the video's lies about Palin. How do we know? Because during the initial draft writing of this report a number of comments --including one by me -- have been left disputing the allegations made in the video. And our "cnwinner" (Charles N. Winner?) responds:

cn_winner_youtube_comments.gif

And “eswinner” (Ethan S. Winner?) joins in the sockpuppet game with "cswinner” (his father Charles N. Winner?), pretending to be a bystander when he is the one who uploaded the video!

cn_winner_and_eswinner_youtube_comments.gif

Other apparent early sockpuppets included "Truthiness99" & "nowaymccain" both of whom joined YouTube within a day of the original video posting and seem eager to make claims that the video has its facts straight.

The same day (9/12/2008) another apparent sockpuppet account "gocamerica" was created. It is our opinion, based on activity under this account, that this account was created solely or primarily for the purpose of helping the video spread; "gocamerica" reuploaded the video naming it "Sarah Palin ABC Interview". Gocamerica apparently has as little problem lying about the contents of the video as he has with the lies directed at Sarah Palin in the video.

Does the user name sound familiar? As in Group Of Concerned AMERICAns or "gocamerica".

[UPDATE: Account removed. Are we seeing a pattern here? Click to see screenshot of original account]

And what does "gocamerica" have to say in the thread where many of the commenters laugh at the outright lies in the video?

gocamerica_comments.gif

How transparent is gocamerica's sock puppetry? He says the same thing, word for word, in the comments thread of all four versions of the video. A cut and paste job.

Apparently someone has been taking sock puppet lessons from Glenn Greenwald!

LYING ABOUT SARAH PALIN: BUSINESS OR PLEASURE?

Many of the comments seem to have been written during normal business hours. Which, if everything else wasn't enough evidence, indicates that they are probably doing this on company time. For instance, this reply by "gocamerica" to a comment I left:

gocamerica_comment_315pm.gif

You'll notice the message was left two hours before 5:16 pm Central time on 9/17/2008. Since it's highly likely that "gocamerica" is on Pacific time, then it follows that he left the comment sometime around 1:16 pm Pacific --- right in the middle of the work day.

On 9/19/2008 "eswinner" logged into his YouTube account sometime just before 3 PM Central -- or sometime just before 1 PM Pacific.

es_winner_last_login_9-19.gif

From the available evidence, it certainly appears that someone is spending time on the company clock boosting the video. Trying to get the video to go viral. To take a life on of its own. Seeing how many people have viewed it.

What appears, in our opinion, to be a third sockpuppet account was created on 9/16/2008. This account belongs to "grpcncrndamrcns" and has only one video -- the same video uploaded by "eswinner" and "gocamerica": Sarah Palin: A Heartbeat Away.

As further evidence that these two are sockpuppets of the owner of the "eswinner" account, the videos uploaded by "gocamerica" and "grpcncrndamrcns" do not bear the hallmark signs of one YouTube user reuploading a video he or she found at YouTube -- the double YouTube watermark. Instead, all versions of the YouTube video have a single YouTube watermark indicating that the person/persons probably uploaded an original unwatermarked version of the video.

[Update: Within 2 hours of initial post, "grpcncrndamrcns" deleted video as well. Confirmed, these accounts are all sockpuppets.

Here is a backup of the page.]

[Update: Readers tell me that there are programs to download YouTube videos without the watermark. Noted. However, we think that given the fact that these videos have already been yanked from YouTube, that this is strong evidence that ll accounts mentioned are fronts for "eswinner" who we now strongly believe --even more strongly than before -- is Publicis employee Ethan Winner]


GETTING THE LIE TO SPREAD WITHOUT DETECTION

And their efforts didn't stop there. Someone emailed the video to a forum administrator at the Democratic Underground--a message board considerably to the left and far nuttier than even the far left wing bloggers. Says "EarlG" about the video he posted on the very day after it was created (and the same day that this particular version was uploaded):

Nice independent YouTube attack ad. I don't know who made this, it arrived in my email inbox this morning from "A Group Of Concerned Americans." [emphasis added]
As previously noted "A Group of Concerned Americans" just happens to be the name of the YouTube channel created by a person who we have reason to believe is Ethan S. Winner (aka, "eswinner") of the W&A PR firm.

But getting a video to go viral would take more than the Democratic Underground, it would take many more in the netroots willing to push the video. The video appeared on the largest leftwing blog on 9/12/2008 and became lauded as the prime example of what the netroots should be doing on their own to smear the McCain campaign.

[Update: Shock, the dKos page is now gone. Don't worry, I backed it up. Here's a partial screenshot.]

Daily Kos is the blog that really launched Obama's successful campaign. DailyKos diarist "geekesque" tells his audience of a plan to get this and other smear videos to go viral. And I mean just that: he admits that the video and others like it make false claims, but that the ends justify the means. It's pretty long but I'll post the whole thing just to show I'm not taking this out of context:

Viral attacks are where it's at in 2008. Emails, blogs, online news sources. Content flows upstream in today's media environment.

We can be the gun.

Indeed, if Barack can't or won't do the dirty work, then we have to do it for him. No excuses. No more hand-wringing.

Let's get to work.

How, you ask? Simple.

It's all about finding really damaging stuff--news stories, YouTubes, informative blog posts. And then circulating those with the intent of having them work their way up the media stream. Email it to your friends. Email it to any journalists whose email you have. Post it in diaries or blog comments.

Example, here is a devastating YouTube on Sarah Strangelove:

[The Palin smear video was inserted here]

You should email this to ten people. Or ten bloggers. Or both. Spread it far, spread it wide.

If you would like to do this on a regular basis, I've set up a couple of Google Groups to help out with that process.

One group, [group's name] is a gathering point for potentially damaging stories about the enemy. Folks who belong to that one can post whatever stories they find anonymously. Just post a link or create a page, and others will take it from there.

That brings me to the other group, [other group's name]. This group is the actual action group--the one where the most damaging stories collected by folks at the VMP. It's real simple. You log in or get an email alert, you copy and paste, and you email it to various folks--either friends and family or content-based websites like blogs and online news sources.

I am more than happy to add folks to either group or both. Just email me at:

[redacted e-mail]

and let me know which you'd like to join.

Let's go out and expose these bastards for what they are.

To the barricades.

Note: If you don't believe in scorched-earth politics, no one is forcing you to join this effort, of course. We all contribute in our own way.

How do DKos readers respond to the notion that spreading lies is acceptable behavior in getting their preferred candidate elected? Not a single negative response as of this writing. Here are some samples:
already sent the video on your diary to 300 contacts.

by rapcetera on Fri Sep 12, 2008 at 12:27:36 PM PDT ...

Let's hammer these bastards any way we can. We have to influence the media narrative ourselves.

Cotton Mouth

by Countificus on Fri Sep 12, 2008 at 11:58:45 AM PDT...

If you want to win without a dirty candidate... (5+ / 0-)

Recommended by:
slinkerwink, Geekesque, BachFan, kat68, Floande

...the candidate him/herself can't fight dirty.

When Johnson wanted a rumor spread that his opponent f*cked farm animals, he didn't stand up and make a speech to that effect. He told his campaign manager to spread the word on the sly.

Johnson? Remember that guy, back from when the Democrats actually won elections?

On s'engage, et puis, on voit. (Napoleon)

by sagesource on Fri Sep 12, 2008 at 12:06:48 PM PDT

Spreading the message seems to be a theme that is echoed by one "Justyn Winner" who shares an unusually spelled name with a W&A Vice President, General Counsel, and Valerie Plame representative. From a comment "Justyn Winner" left about Obama's race speech at noted leftwing blog Crooks and Liars:
Fantastic spech! the best thing people can do is to circulate a link of it or its segements to all friends and family. Exposure is essential
Knowing the right people to prod into action is the key ingredient in getting a "grassroots campaign" off the ground and making it seem "spontaneous" and "ground up". The netroots of dKos are the perfect people to contact if one wanted to spread the message, but do it in such a way that it would appear to be spontaneous and undirected.

FERTILIZING THE ASTROTURF

But it wasn't just dKos and the DU that appear to have been contacted. Also posting the video on the very day it was created is noted gay-rights activist Pam Spaulding. Jesus' General posted it the next day.

Incidentally Jesus' General, who posted the video on his own blog without comment, thought he should leave his two cents in the video's comments. It appears that he knows the video presents outright lies as truth, but he doesn't care: the other side lies, he reasons, so why shouldn't the left?

jesuss_general_comment.gif

Another person interested in helping the smear go viral is David "Ben" Burch whose White Rose Society is dedicated to "fighting the new fascism" by.... lying about a VP candidate? A dedicated fan of Cindy Sheehan, of left wing radio, and of harassing Wikipedia users who don't see eye to eye with him. Burch also doesn't appear to have a problem spreading lies about Sarah Palin. It's for the greater good, you see. Nothing fascist about that!

There's no telling how many other bloggers or activists were emailed by the sockpuppet "A Group Of Concerned Americans" who we have reason to believe is Ethan S. Winner or other employees of one of the largest PR firms on the planet.

But would the people at Winner & Associates have the kind of experience to try and organize a grassroots campaign? From the Publicis website describing what W&A does.

grassroots_organizing.gif

It appears that they do.

JUST A FAMILY AFFAIR?

Even if “eswinner” is indeed Ethan S. Winner and “cnwinner” is indeed Charles N. Winner, it is possible, of course, that the attack ad on Palin is a Winner family project, unconnected to Winner and Associates and their corporate owners at the mega-PR firm of Publicis. In fact, FEC regulations carve out an exception for individuals to use their computers -- even their office computers -- to spread political messages.

There is evidence, however, from which one might reasonably surmise that the attack ad on Palin was a project of the company itself. In particular, there are indications that other employees of Winner and Associates, not members of the family, have been actively involved in dissemination of the video.

As we've already seen, "eswinner" uploaded the same Sarah Palin smear video four times giving it four separate titles. Likely seven times, really, since "gocamerica" & "grpcncrndamrcns" both appear to be just other sockpuppets; and the video was also uploaded to Google. We've already seen how someone sent the video to two prominent leftwing internet websites--the Daily Kos and the Democratic Underground--and possibly to other leftwing bloggers.

What I haven't mentioned is that a second version of the same video uploaded by "eswinner" was posted separately at the Democratic Underground on the same day as the one forum administrator "EarlG" claims it was sent to him by "A Group Of Concerned Americans."

This version was posted by DU user "stckyfngz" on Sept. 12th. Here's a screenshot:

stickyfngz_du_post.gif

Who is this "stckyfngz" who posted the video at The Democratic Underground the day after "eswinner" uploaded it to YouTube? There is evidence that leads us to believe that the “stckyfngz” who posted the video at DU is named Jared Liu-Klein.

jared_liu_klein_stickyfngz_big.gif
jared_liu_klein_stickyfngz.gif

Jared Liu-Klein, aka, "stckyfngz", you see works in "Public Relations". And there just happens to be a Jared Liu-Klein who donated to Barack Obama.

That would be the same Jared Liu-Klein who represented Valerie Plame for Winner & Associates.

LiuKlein_Jared.jpg
From the Publicis website:
Associate, Winner & Associates

Jared Liu-Klein, an Associate, has almost a decade of experience in the information technology, new media, and multimedia sectors....

He is involved on the production side with several accounts, taking on roles such as conceptualization, scriptwriting, editing, and direction.

It looks like Jared does more than just represent Valerie Plame at W&A--he also helps write scripts!

Jared's mother is Carol Liu, a Democratic politician who previously served in the State Assembly & is currently running for State Senate. His father is Michael Peevey, the Gray Davis appointed President of the California Public Utilities Commission.

There was a bit of a scandal involving Jarad's parents last year when it was revealed by the L.A. Times that tens of thousands of dollars contributed to Carol Liu's campaign came from industries regulated by her husband. Businesses that also hired W&A to handle PR for them during the California Energy crisis. The crisis which would eventually lead to Gray Davis' recall.

[Update: Weekly Standard calls Jared Liu-Klein who didn't deny he was "stckyfngz" .... and then proceeded to hang up.]

DEEP THROAT SAYS "FOLLOW THE MONEY"

So what do we have so far? Evidence which strongly indicates that Ethan S. Winner and Charles "Chuck" N. Winner are behind a smear campaign aimed at discouraging people from voting for McCain/Palin. The production value of the ad indicates that it was produced by a professional firm. The family that runs that company has extensive ties to the Democratic Party, the netroots, and are staunch Obama supporters.

The timing of the comments seems to indicate that the video's promotion was done on Winner & Associates company time. At least one employee, Jared Liu-Klein, appears to have been instrumental in its dissemination. A concerted effort was made to distribute the video in such a way that it would appear to have gone viral on its own. There appears to be corporate sponsorship and organization behind a new "grassroots" smear campaign.

So, the million dollar question is who, if any one, paid Winner & Associates to produce this ad?

[NOTE: The Jawa Report legal department has pleaded with me to point out that everything from this point forward is pure conjecture on my part.

That said…]

THE OBAMA CONNECTION

My initial money was on George Soros who has contributed to Winner run campaigns in the past, . The sheer viciousness of the attack bears all of the hallmarks of Moveon.org.

But it could be any number of 527s that Obama has now given the wink-wink-nudge-nudge to start hammering away at McCain.

Or the money could come from an untraceable source like the "charitable organization" run by Justyn Winner.

So why would any one hire a PR firm like W&R? Did I mention that they specialize in "crisis communications?" Again, from the Publicis website:

crisis_communications.gif

Which leaves open the possibility that Obama or the Democratic Party might also be the ones paying for the campaign. Is there anything that might be suggestive of that? Yes there is.

First there is Ethan Winner's Facebook account. Among the 27 friends Ethan has on Facebook, one of them is David Washington. Dr. David Washington is described as a senior Obama campaign adviser in California.

[Update: Facebook account vanishes, but here's the cache.]

In and of itself, that's not much of a link. Washington is involved in hosting fundraisers for Obama in the L.A. area, and as we've already noted the Winner family has contributed to Obama's campaign. Perhaps that explains the connection. But there are more compelling links between the video which we believe was uploaded by Ethan Winner and the Barack Obama campaign.

PROFESSIONAL WORK FOR OBAMA CAMPAIGN?

We began this post by noting that a video uploaded to YouTube appeared to have been produced with a voice over done by a professional. As this Politico article makes clear, voice over artists are often used over and over by the same campaign. That shouldn't be shocking to any one. That when called upon to make an advertisement a producer will use people that they've worked with before.

What is surprising is that voice artists are often partisans. Not only do they work for the same producers over and over, they often only work for one side of the political aisle. For instance, Betsy Ames is one of the premier voices for Republican campaigns. Kathryn Klvana is often heard on political ads -- but only Democratic ones.

We believe that the artist in the "eswinner" Palin smear video has also worked directly for the Barack Obama campaign. What we think is her voice can be heard in Obama's "Burden" video, released on Sept. 15th -- less than a week after the "eswinner" Sarah Palin, a Heartbeat Away video.

Audio from each advertisement was ripped by Dan Riehl and spliced so that a better compare and contrast between the two voices could be made. I then equalized volume levels on the two ads, producing this video. Sorry about its poor quality, I don't have the resources of a PR firm!

Are the two voices the same? You be the judge.

We think it is.

We also believe that she worked on this Obama ad, released on Sept. 20th, and this one, from August. She may be on others, but with over 1300 videos on Obama's YouTube channel we just didn't look for any more.

LINKS TO THE "KING OF ASTROTURFING" -- DAVID AXELROD

We believe the voice can also be heard on these AKP&D Message and Media produced videos. In fact, all of the female voice overs showcased on the AKP&D website seem to belong to the same woman. That's right, all of them. The same voice heard in some Barack Obama ads, and which was used for the "eswinner" slime campaign.

More importantly, though, what is AKP&D? It's the Chicago based political consulting firm headed by David Axelrod. Yes, that David Axelrod. As in the David Axelrod who is Barack Obama's chief media strategist.

david_axelrod.jpg

David Axelrod is also known as The master of "Astroturfing", which is what PR industry insiders call the practice of "manufacturing grassroots support." As Ace notes:

It tries to disguise itself as a "grassroots" phenomenon -- but it's artificial and inorganic. Hence, "Astroturf."

And David Axelrod is notorious for making extensive use of this controversial tactic -- and was notorious for it even before he begain running Barack Obama's campaign.

According to Businessweek, one of Axelrod's astroturfing campaigns stealthily spent $15 million convincing Illinois taxpayers that their power would be shut off if they didn't approve an increase in their electric bills. It wasn't until a complaint was filed with the state's regulators that it was revealed that Axelrod's "grassroots" campaign was fully funded by ComEd -- the power company which would benefit from the rate hike.

Axelrod is a "community organizer" you might say.

This does not mean that we believe that Barack Obama's campaign is behind the stealth Palin smear campaign. In fact, a preliminary analysis of Obama's campaign expenditures filed with the FEC did not find any payouts to Winner & Associates or Publicis. But our familiarity with how to search FEC expenditures is limited, and there are tens of thousands of recorded transactions.

What we do believe we have found is that David Axelrod's firm has worked with the voice over artist in the "eswinner" Palin smear video. In fact, each and every political ad showcased on Axelrod's website that has a female voice over seems to be the same voice from the Palin smear ad. That Axelrod used her over and over again in his videos going back several years.

We also believe that Axelrod has used her in several official Obama campaign videos.

We also know that David Axelrod is considered the master of orchestrating grassroots campaigns that appear spontaneous and which are difficult to trace to him.

In fact, Axelrod has a second company called ASK Public Strategies who's sole purpose seems to be running professional astroturfing campaigns. We can't help but wonder if they ever outsource any of their work?

We also can't help but ask if the Obama campaign has ever hired Publicis or Winner & Associates to do any work for them? Or the extent to which those advertising firms hired by Axelrod on behalf of the Obama campaign subcontract out to other large corporate PR firms?

A BROADER ASTROTURFING CAMPAIGN?

We believe that the case has been made that the Palin smear video was produced by the Publicis Groupe's Winner & Associates. We believe the evidence to this effect is compelling.

We also believe that the evidence shows that W&A tried to spread the lies about Palin in such a way as to catch the attention of the left-wing netroot supporters of Barack Obama. We think it is unlikely that one of the largest PR firms in the world would do this for free. That they would pay for video production out of their own pockets, hire a well known voice actress, or that its employees would work together in their free time to help the video go viral.

So, if we're right, who paid them? As of this writing we cannot answer that question. Our initial reaction was that this campaign had all the hallmarks of the Soros funded Moveon.org, but given David Axelrod's known predilection to these type of stealth campaigns it would not surprise us in the least if the Obama campaign itself was orchestrating it.

That this is what Obama meant by "taking the gloves off". Especially given the timing of the video's release -- during the brief period when Obama trailed McCain in the polls, and when most of McCain's sudden surge was attributed to the popularity of Sarah Palin.

And if the company has been hired to stealthily spread these Palin smears, what other smears might they be paid to spread? Ones in which they more successfully covered their tracks?

The Palin smear video analyzed here fits in nicely with the post-Palin pick narrative being offered by the Obama campaign. That narrative is that John McCain may not fill out his term in office. The narrative is bolstered by questions about McCain's age, the present status of the skin cancer he once had, and by demands that his medical records be released.

The second ingredient in the narrative paints Sarah Palin -- who would take McCain's vacated Presidential office -- as not ready for the job. Obama's campaign has called her experience & intelligence into question, but there is also a "grassroots" viral campaign of deception that claims Palin is on the political fringe and is a religious lunatic.

Just in the past week, since we first began following the astroturfing of Sarah Palin, rumors have circulated that Palin was a member of the John Birch Society and that she hates rape victims. Bored with the spreading the lie that Palin thinks the Earth is 6,000 years old and that she banned books, this week the netroots are claiming that she supports witch hunts. Not metaphorical witch hunts, actual witch hunts.

Sometimes rumors and lies get spread organically with no need from direction. But sometimes what may seem to be an organic bottom up grassroots movement, may actually be led from the top and may be professionally organized.

We believe at least one such campaign to discredit Sarah Palin is currently underway. It seems highly likely that others are as well. We've done the initial work, but now it's time for the professionals to take over and ask the tough questions.

UPDATE: Within an hour of this post going up, YouTube videos implicating Ethan Winner were yanked, sockpuppet accounts deleted, and more importantly, the Wikipedia entry on David Axelrod began to edit out mentions of his well know astroturfing campaigns. Hmmm, it sounds to me like we're on to something.

We have backups of all the deleted websites, and have now included them in the post.

Thanks to all who have linked this post. Due to high interest in the story, we are unable to check all posts relate to it at this time. If you have something important you think should go in updates to this post -- something we've overlooked -- please e-mail Rusty.

Update: Weekly Standard calls Jared Liu-Klein who didn't deny he was "stckyfngz" .... and then proceeded to hang up.

Nailed! Ethan Winner confesses he was behind video!

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Thanks to Jane & Stable Hand who did a lot of the Googling on this one, the Jawa team for input, and our legal division for extensive advice. Also thanks to Dan Riehl and Ace for input and help with drafts; and Patterico for putting together the bullet point summary.

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Prayers, Karma, and Good Vibes

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 11:32 PM | Comments |