Friday, March 16, 2012

A story about Doonesbury, a robo campaign, and 6,000 emails to the Indy

Posted By on Fri, Mar 16, 2012 at 11:40 AM

The first email came in Wednesday afternoon, about 1:30 p.m., and it was addressed to Indy editor Robert Meyerowitz. It started:

Dear Editor,
It has come to my attention that you have chosen not to run this week’s Doonesbury cartoon about Texas’s mandatory ultrasound law in your print edition. I am highly disappointed in your decision and deeply concerned about censorship on this important issue.

Curious. If you've visited the Indy at all this week, you know we've been active on this very issue, and posted daily links to the "graphic" Doonesbury series the Missoulian decided not to run. Clearly, we're on the same side as the letter writer and against what she calls censorship.

The letter continues, explaining the cartoons ...

are simply commenting on a law and its very real impact. What some editors are calling 'too graphic' is just a depiction of what the law requires—that women endure an invasive ultrasound and listen to their doctor deliver an ideological speech.

Amen. In fact, each of our posts this week have included the death quotes around "graphic," just like the letter writer. She goes on, asking us to "consider the serious implications of your censorship of this issue. Your readers expect the truth—and not just a candy-coated version of it." It ended with the letter writer's full name and address.

It appeared to be a simple mistake. No biggie. Until Robert received another one, worded exactly the same, from someone else. And another. And another. And another. And, over the next 24 hours, thousands more, with each one using, word for word, the same language as the first.

What gives?

Robert realized, after personally responding to a few of the "letter writers," that the Indy had been wrongly targeted by The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) and its national campaign against papers that didn't run Doonesbury. By filling out a quick form on CRR's website, more than 60 papers would receive a letter pre-written by CRR but signed by you.

Robert emailed the organization's president, Nancy Northup, about the mistake and asked that it be corrected.

Nancy never responded. Thousands more emails poured into his inbox. He asked again. Letter writers contacted by Robert either apologized for aiming at the wrong target, or, in some cases, remained steadfast and demanded the Indy run this week's Doonesbury, no matter what. Others turned on CRR. They didn't care for the mistake and, more importantly, expressed surprise at how their personal information was used. Here's an excerpt from one of the emails directed to CRR and cc'd to Robert:

What was surprising to me was that my name, and ADDRESS was displayed in the petition. I would request that you stop sending me petitions to sign. I would also request that you respond to Mr. Meyerowitz emails. He took the time to respond to me when I sent him your information, the lest you could do was to respond in kind to his email to you.

Finally, yesterday morning, Jennifer Gurevich, a communications assistant for CRR, explained the organization had mistakenly linked to Robert's email address rather than any email address at The Missoulian, the paper that actually decided not to run the comic. She emailed the clarification to Robert, and sent a separate email to the group's members.

For the record, the Missoula Independent was not on our list of newspapers censoring Doonesbury. Instead, the newspaper's email address was mistakenly applied to another similarly named newspaper, The Missoulian, which is in fact censoring the cartoons. We have spoken to Mr. Meyerowitz and have apologized for any misunderstanding. We applaud the Missoula Independent for running the entire series and plan on making a correction in an upcoming email.

On a more positive note, we are thrilled to report that after receiving thousands of messages from supporters like you the Athens Banner-Herald and the Des Moines Register have both notified us that they have reconsidered their decision and will run the cartoons in their entirety.

So, there's some good news for readers in Athens and Des Moines.

The Missoulian, meanwhile, hasn't changed its position. And, as of this morning, there's still no email link to the Missoulian on CRR's website.

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