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A pervasive politics of small deceits
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Published: 8/15/2010 12:02 AM

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As we all sometimes do, Kelly Klopp misdirected an e-mail recently.

She is the communications director for Robert Dold, the Republican candidate for Congress in the 10th District, and she inadvertently sent a directive intended for a group of campaign volunteers to the Daily Herald.

Oops. As the popular Southwest Airlines commercial would ask, "Wanna get away?"

Staff Writer Russell Lissau reports elsewhere in today's editions that the e-mail directed the campaign volunteers to post anonymous comments online endorsing Dold's latest campaign ad and went so far as to suggest specific lines the commenters should use. "Heard the ad and liked it," was one. "Nice to see the candidate talk about himself without just attacking his opponent," was another.

For her part, Klopp did not try to deny the campaign's blatant attempt to orchestrate public comment, and in fact, she added that "Volunteers write letters to the editor for us."

Our intention here isn't to single out Klopp or the Dold campaign. Sadly, it may not be that everybody does it, but it sure seems that way. Klopp, by way of an errant e-mail, just happened to admit it. The campaign trying to elect Dan Seals, Dold's Democratic opponent, told Lissau that it's above that sort of thing, but if so, we suspect that is more unusual than typical.

For years, our editors have geared up during election season to guard against a heavy onslaught of campaign-spawned letters to the editor. We're able to block the ones spun out as carbon copies, but there's no doubt that others produced in a campaign office with a bit more subtlety slip through. In many cases, the campaigns ask supporters if they can ghostwrite letters for them; on occasion, they don't even ask, they just do.

And now with the Internet and all of its anonymous comment, well, it's just a free-for-all.

Unfortunately, this type of thing is so commonplace that when someone like Klopp is caught at it, she isn't even properly embarrassed.

The message for all of us, as voters and in a more general sense as consumers of information, is both sad and simple: Be discerning.

Don't assume that unattributed comments are posted by Joe Down-the-Street; don't assume that they come without vested interests or, frankly, that they are even genuine.

The message for politicians cuts more to the quick: When you do this, when you allow your campaigns to do this, it may just seem like standard electioneering, but it is fundamentally dishonest.

It may be a small lie, but it is a lie all the same. It tries to pretend that a testimonial is spontaneous when in fact it is orchestrated by the campaign. And that's a falsehood.

It is fundamentally dishonest and inherently unethical.

You cannot gain the public's trust by engaging in untrustworthy political practices.