I've written about "astroturfing" a couple of times. Here's how I explained it back in 2014:
The Online Slang Dictionary defines astroturfing as "the creation of lobbying groups that appear to be separate from corporate interests, but that are actually funded by them. As opposed to "grassroots" political activism." The origins of the word most likely came from the first baseball field with fake or artificial grass (it didn’t have "grass roots") – the Astrodome which used "Astroturf." Thus, astroturfed material appears to come from real grassroots action but it is actually fake. If you've ever read product reviews online, you’ve probably been astroturfed. Letters to the editor are sometimes examples of astroturf. Organizations, often with noble-sounding names that appear to have our best interests at heart but are really serving others, would be another example.
Good astroturfing works because it looks real -- one of the things that it often does is to call attention to its "grassroots." ("We're just a group of citizens who are concerned about . . . " when in actuality they're financed by the Koch brothers or similar group.) I thought about this as I read today's front-page headline -- "Valley Jobs Alliance Fighting Gas Plants," the subheading -- "Grassroots group says projects harming coal miners," and the accompanying article. (The article is about the group's efforts to stop the building of local natural gas power plants that would replace coal-fired power plants.)
After researching the organization, I believe that the Valley Jobs Alliance is the creation of a coal company or coal association rather than an actual grassroots organization. Here's why:
Go to the Valley Jobs Alliance's website here and then compare it to another local grassroots organization that you are familiar with. There should be very few similarities. The Alliance's website has sophisticated graphics, an easy-to-deal-with interface, logical flow from one page to another, well-written and organized information, an opportunity to join the organization on every page, and no mistakes (typos, misspellings, bad links) that I could find. A local grassroots' site may have some of the above but it won't look nearly as good. This is a sophisticated website and its only a year old. I doubt that this is a website created and maintained by one of the organization's grassroots members in his/her spare time.
If you make your way around the website, you should notice something missing from it -- something you'll find on most grassroots website -- how you can help the group financially. Most grassroots groups that I'm familiar with are always in need of money to fund their actions yet nowhere on the site is there a request for donations. If it's really grassroots, how does this group stay afloat? The site provides no clues.
Similarly, how will it pay for the following that, I would think, will run-up some significant legal fees:
Natural gas power plant developers in West Virginia and Ohio say they can create about 1,500 construction jobs and 85 full-time jobs, but Ohio Valley Jobs Alliance members believe these projects are harming coal miners and their families.
The same grassroots organization protesting Moundsville Power's air quality permit with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is also working to stop similar plants slated for Columbiana and Carroll counties in Ohio. Alliance officials are working to prevent the 1,100-megawatt South Field Energy plant - planned for construction near Wellsville - from receiving a required permit from the Ohio Power Siting Board.
Ordinary citizens trying to stop the issuing of a required permit? Not without legal help which wouldn't come cheaply.
My conclusion: this is not a grassroots organization. It's one that is most likely funded by a coal company or a coal association.
Today's article about this organization quotes one of its members, Jim Thomas, but it does not use, as previous Intelligencer articles have, the organization's president, Bruce Whipkey, who is referenced on the website as a retired miner. In my research it was probably the same Whipkey who was mentioned in an Intelligencer article about fracking five years ago:
It takes Trans Energy Inc. nearly 6 million gallons of water and 7 million pounds of sand to frack each natural gas well at the Whipkey drilling pad near Cameron.
By touring the drilling site on Bruce Whipkey's property Thursday, state Delegates Erikka Storch, Ryan Ferns, Scott Varner and Mike Ferro gained a new perspective on the drilling and fracking process to take with them to Charleston whenever the matter of Marcellus Shale drilling regulations comes before the Legislature again. . . .
The Whipkey pad contains the completed and producing No. 1 and No. 2 wells, while No. 3 is now undergoing the fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, process to release the gas from the shale. Officials plan to drill and frack six to eight wells at the Whipkey site. Each frack job costs the company about $3 million and consists of 14 stages.
Interesting. Perhaps the Bruce Whipkey from Cameron who is president of the Valley Jobs Alliance is not the same Bruce Whipkey who is the owner of up to eight drilling pads near Cameron although a quote in the State Journal would seem to suggest as much:
“I have seen firsthand the benefits that the natural gas industry has brought to our county, but I don't believe any single business should be given a special deal that threatens other businesses who have played by the rules and kept people employed over the years,” Whipkey said. “Government should not be picking winners and losers in business — and government should not get to determine who works and who doesn't.
The president of an organization opposed to the development of natural gas for power plants most likely owns 6 to 8 wellpads. Does anyone at these "newspapers" do any research? Of course not, this article is not about informing, it's about propagandizing.