Operation Guardian and the U.S. elections (Part 2)

October 21, 2004

* This is the second of two dispatches on "Operation Clark County" and its counterpart, "Operation Guardian." There is an explanatory note on the first dispatch.



1. "Letters to The Guardian"
2. "Advice? U.S. voters tell British, 'No, thank you'" (Reuters, Oct. 20, 2004)
3. "A clever trick?" (By John Gibson, Fox News, Oct. 19, 2004)
4. "British two cents draws, in sum, a two-word reply: Butt out" (By Sarah Lyall, New York Times, Oct. 20, 2004)
5. "Brits want to give you some advice" (Springfield News Sun, Oct. 14, 2004)

[Note by Tom Gross]


It seems to me that The Guardian has deliberately chosen to print the most extreme anti-Guardian comments, since many other websites have been publishing much more articulate, moderate and persuasive letters against Guardian policies.

I draw your attention to those The Guardian has published not because I agree with their tone or sentiment, but to demonstrate a cultural phenomena and as an example of how divisive the current U.S. election is proving.

You can also visit Tim Blair's site, to read about how "Operation Guardian" – the counter initiative to "Operation Clark County" – started, and has now spread to dozens of websites. Again, many of the comments posted are childish and obnoxious: http://timblair.spleenville.com/archives/007752.php



I have included only a few of these below, because so many are so ridiculous; if you want to look at another example (from Oct. 18, 2004) of letters The Guardian says it has received, go to www.guardian.co.uk/uselections2004/story/0,13918,1329858,00.html.

Here are some examples of the kind of comment The Guardian posted on line:


"Dear Guardian Guy,

Keep it up!

– Zarqawi"


"I hope everyone on this thread appreciates the great strain "Operation Clark County" has imposed on Guardian readers. They must put aside, for a few minutes, years of sneering anti-Americanism and pretend to be the concerned friends of those dumb, fat, gun totin', Yanks."


"And now you Europeans deign to offer us advice on our upcoming election. You will condescend to grant us your wisdom and sophistication. The people who gave the world Auschwitz, the Raj, and the Gulag; the people who divided Africa like a slaughtered steer and soaked their own continent in blood; the people of the Fourth Crusade, the 30 Years War, and the Western Front; the people who gave the world Nazism, Fascism, and Leninism: these people will now instruct us on how we should conduct our affairs."


"I recently read about your asinine attempt to influence the results of the upcoming Presidential election. Why anybody would care about the opinion of a know nothing socialist loser pseudointellectual elitist newsrag from Britain is beyond me, but it certainly is indicative of how desperate the Kerry campaign must be. Stay the hell out of our business, and have a nice day."


"Go back to sipping your tea and leave our people alone."



Advice? U.S. voters tell British, 'No, thank you'
Reuters (as printed in the International Herald Tribune)
October 20, 2004


A letter-writing campaign sponsored by Britain's left-leaning Guardian newspaper that supports the Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry, and targets undecided U.S. voters has provoked outrage across the Atlantic.

The newspaper has encouraged its readers to express their opinions on the coming U.S. election to voters in the key state of Ohio, a move that has prompted a deluge of indignant reactions.

One e-mail the newspaper printed read, "Hey England, Scotland and Wales, mind your own business. We don't need weenie-spined Limeys meddling in our presidential election."

The conservative Fox television network has criticized The Guardian and even Democrats have expressed horror at the campaign.

"We all feel it is not a good idea," said Sharon Manitta, spokeswoman for Democrats Abroad in Britain. "I think it was unwise. It is so poorly thought out."

But the newspaper, whose cartoons regularly portray President George W. Bush unfavorably, was unrepentant.

"We did consult a number of opinions and made our decision accordingly," said Paul MacInnes, assistant features editor. "It has been an operation to give our readers an opportunity to express their opinions."

Two weeks before the Nov. 2 election, Bush and Kerry are deadlocked in polls. Ohio is a key swing state that Bush won by four percentage points in 2000 and Clark County, the target of the newspaper's campaign, is at its heart.

As of Monday night, more than 14,000 people had registered with the Guardian to write to voters in Clark County, which has a population of 143,000.

The Guardian, which simply bought a list of registered voters and extracted those names that were listed as undecided, pledged that it would give out the name of each voter only once, to avoid swamping voters in Clark County with unsolicited mail from strangers on the other side of the ocean.

"We know that in many ways this is the world's election, and we understand the passion and concern in many parts of the world over it, but I wonder how people here in the U.K. would react to Americans telling them how to vote," Manitta said.

"This will certainly garner more votes for George Bush. I have strongly advised other media entities who have come to me and suggested this against doing so," she added.

While some e-mails to The Guardian from Democrats in Ohio were supportive, others suggested that the campaign was misguided.

"I just read a hilarious proposal to involve your readership in the upcoming U.S. presidential election," wrote one person. "I'm saying this as a Democrat," the e-mail continued, "Please, please be rational and move away from self-defeating hubris."

But the milder admonitions paled against some more-colorful opinions. Responded one person, "If you want to save the world, begin with your own worthless corner of it."



A clever trick?
By John Gibson
Fox News
October 19, 2004


Last week I told you about "Britain's Guardian newspaper organizing Brits" – and people from all over the world, actually – to write to voters in a small swing county in Ohio to urge them to vote President Bush out.

After three prominent Britons wrote letters to voters in Ohio telling them in high-minded English how dumb they would be to vote for Bush, Americans began to write back.

Monday, The Guardian printed a column with a sample of the earful it got from outraged Americans:

"We Ohioans are an ornery sort and don't take meddling well, even if it comes from people we admire and with their sincere goodwill," said one writer from Springfield, Ohio.

One from Washington D.C. wrote: "You vote for your leaders and we'll vote for ours. Your problem is with your leaders, not ours."

And these were the nice ones. Dozens of others were angry, hostile, truculent, threatening and exceedingly obscene.

I can't say here on the air a fraction of what outraged Americans had to say about and to the Brits who thought it would be helpful for voters in America to be educated on what a bad president George Bush has been. And I must say that I've decided this was a sly and clever trap set by The Guardian.

What The Guardian editors wanted was to show what louts and lowlifes Americans are... and so they baited the trap with someone like Lady Antonia Fraser lecturing us about our politics.

Then The Guardian got all these wild letters from wild Americans. And I think that was their point, really: To show Brits that Americans are still loutish frontiersmen wearing animal skins and scratching and spitting and cursing.

The Guardian's point in all of this was to show the world that the American voter is not qualified to select the leader of the free world. And the letters they got from us will confirm that opinion among many around the world.

Well, here's a news flash to all those people wherever they are: We don't care.



British two cents draws, in sum, a two-word reply: Butt out
By Sarah Lyall
The New York Times
October 20, 2004


The idea, as the left-leaning newspaper The Guardian here conceived it, was to allow "non-Americans" feeling alarmed or incensed by the state of affairs in the United States to do something about it.

Last week the newspaper began matching Guardian readers with independent voters in Clark County, Ohio, a key spot in a key swing state, urging them to "write a personal letter, citizen to citizen, explaining why this election matters to you." As an incentive, the paper printed sample letters from three prominent Britons – Lady Antonia Fraser, John le Carré and Richard Dawkins – arguing for the defeat of President Bush on Nov. 2.

"We in the rest of the world, who sadly cannot vote in the one election that really affects our future, are depending on you," said Mr. Dawkins, professor of public understanding of science at Oxford University. "The proper way to get rid of that smirking gunslinger is to vote him out."

But American voters, it turns out, do not much want to be told what to do by a bunch of foreigners, particularly when those foreigners are "losers and idiots," as one American characterized the British in a letter to The Guardian.

On Monday, the paper published a collection of American responses to its campaign. While some of the American correspondents were supportive of The Guardian's effort, many did not feel so friendly about it.

"Go back to sipping your tea and leave our people alone," one American sniped.

Another suggested that perhaps Britain would like people elsewhere meddling in its affairs.

"The next time you have elections in Great Britain, I shall endeavor to send names of your citizens to people in France, Iraq, India, the United Arab Emirates, Botswana, Pakistan, China and Argentina," the writer said, "so that they may attempt to influence your election."

There were also a number of remarks to the effect that the United States had already indicated to Britain, back in 1776, how it felt about outside interference. Also noted was the United States' decisive entry into World War II.

"If it wasn't for America, you'd all be speaking German," one writer said.
Some of the letters from the States seemed to bolster the widespread European view that Americans, whether because of inattention or arrogance, do not care much about the world beyond their own borders. Speaking of the entreaty from Mr. le Carré, the best-selling writer of thrillers, one American correspondent wrote: "People will read these letters and say, 'John le Who? Never heard of him, but who is he to tell me who to vote for?' "



Brits want to give you some advice
By Michelle Everhart
Springfield News Sun
October 14, 2004


Readers of a British newspaper have been invited to write Clark County voters with the aim of persuading the undecided to vote for either George W. Bush or John Kerry.

The 400,000-circulation Guardian, a London-based newspaper, published an article explaining to its international readers that although they have no vote in the U.S. presidential election, they can make a difference.

" ... We've zeroed in on one of the places where this year’s election truly will be decided: Clark County, Ohio, which is balanced on a razor’s edge between Republicans and Democrats,” the article reads. It can be found on the Internet at guardian.co.uk, under the heading “My fellow non-Americans..." by Oliver Burkeman, who is based in the newspaper’s New York City bureau.

The newspaper is encouraging its readers from “Basildon to Botswana” to write Clark County residents who do not have a declared party, “which somewhat increases the chances of their being persuadable.”

Features editor Ian Katz said the unique idea stemmed from many foreigners’ feelings of helplessness while they watched the unfolding of the U.S. election – an election they feel will have a strong impact on the entire world.

“The United States is the most powerful country by far,” Katz said from London. “Domestic decisions are in fact huge decisions that could affect everyone in the world. In many ways this election will have more impact in our countries than our own political elections do.”

Editors looked at counties from Florida, Missouri and Ohio and picked Clark County because there are enough undeclared registered voters to accommodate the desired number of potential letter recipients, Katz said.

The Clark County Board of Elections shows 50,754 undeclared voters, but Katz said they received about 36,000 names and addresses.

Linda Rosicka, director of the Board of Elections, said The Guardian paid $25 for a “flat file,” a list of all registered voters in the county. Purchasers can extract whatever segment of voters they want, she said, and anyone can buy the list.

“We’re still waiting for their check,” she said of The Guardian. Normally, the lists are pay-in-advance, she said.

Rosicka also said she has received calls from Fox News, NBC and ABC, further verifying Clark County’s importance in the election.

Clark County voters also are in the electoral spotlight because of the close presidential election in 2000, when Democratic candidate Al Gore beat George W. Bush by just 324 votes.

The article and Katz acknowledge the plan could backfire, stating, “Anyone might be justifiably angered by the idea of a foreigner trying to interfere in their democratic process.”

Katz said that he does not want Clark County residents to think the newspaper is meddling in the election but simply conveying outsiders’ concerns over the potential outcome.

The Guardian, a traditionally liberal newspaper, makes no attempts to hide that it would like Bush out of office. British newspapers, unlike those in the United States, generally are openly partisan and tailor news coverage as well as editorials around their ideological preferences.

For the letter-writing campaign, however, the editors and reporters tried to craft the message as neutrally as possible, Katz said. The web site is careful to state that each letter-writer is free to support whichever candidate he backs, while noting a poll it conducted showed 47 percent of Britons back Kerry and 16 percent support Bush.

The system is designed so each voter’s information, all public record, is given to only one person participating in the process. This is to prevent one voter’s mailbox being crammed with letters from abroad.

“We don’t want anyone to feel violated,” Katz said. “We don’t give out any details but what is already public record, and we encourage people not to share the information.”

As of 5 p.m. London-time – 1 p.m. Eastern Standard Time – 3,000 people requested information on a Clark County voter, although it appears not all of them plan to write letters.

The newspaper already received e-mail letters from people upset about the campaign, even some from Ohio telling the newspaper to get lost, Katz said.

“We’ve gotten a lot of angry Republicans,” he said. “We figured there would be attempts to sabotage it.”

Despite some complaints, Katz said they also have some people copying courteous and reasonably intelligent letters to the newspaper saying “good on you” for its efforts.

The Springfield News-Sun also received about a dozen e-mails, starting early in the day, about the Guardian campaign, from places as diverse as New York, New Jersey, Georgia, Alaska and Switzerland, almost all of which expressed some degree of outrage.

A woman in New York City e-mailed that she had requested Clark County addresses under her six separate accounts. "I intend to immediately delete the e-mails should I ever get them. Thus, I may have saved six Ohio voters from being annoyed by Britishers with an axe to grind," she wrote.

Katz said they decided to go with postal mail, rather than e-mail, because the former is more personal.

The newspaper also encourages letter writers to include their name and address with the hopes of recipients replying and maybe even creating pen pals, Katz said.

The campaign is more than just a way for foreigners to state their views to locals. It also is a contest. The four most persuasive letter writers will win a trip to Ohio along with Guardian journalists to visit Clark County and campaign at the end of October.

One day of publication has garnered media requests from around the world including Ireland, Canada and the United States, Katz said.

In addition to its circulation of about 400,000 in England, the Guardian gets about 10 million unique visits to its Web site monthly, 4 million of which are from the United States.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.