Obama has suspicious number of letter-writing fans named ‘Ellie Light’
By Sabrina Eaton, The Plain Dealer
January 22, 2010
Ellie Light sure gets around.
In recent weeks, Light has published virtually identical “Letters to the Editor” in support of President Barack Obama in more than a dozen newspapers.Every letter claimed a different residence for Light that happened to be in the newspaper’s circulation area.
“It’s time for Americans to realize that governing is hard work, and that a president can’t just wave a magic wand and fix everything,” said a letter from alleged Philadelphian Ellie Light, that was published in the Jan. 19 edition of The Philadelphia Daily News.A letter from Light in the Jan. 20 edition of the San Francisco Examiner concluded with an identical sentence, but with an address for Light all the way across the country in Daly City, California.
Associated PressPresident Barack Obama has both detractors and fans. A curious number of his fans are named Ellie Light.Variations of Light’s letter ran in Ohio’s Mansfield News Journal on Jan. 13, with Light claiming an address in Mansfield; in New Mexico’s Ruidoso News on Jan. 12, claiming an address in Three Rivers; in South Carolina’s The Sun News on Jan. 18, claiming an address in Myrtle Beach; and in the Daily News Leader of Staunton, Virginia on Jan. 15, claiming an address in Waynesboro. Her publications list includes other papers in Ohio, West Virginia, Maine, Michigan, Iowa, Pennsylvania and California, all claiming separate addresses.
Light – who e-mailed an identical missive to this reporter on Jan. 16 without listing a hometown – would not answer e-mailed questions about the address discrepancies in newspapers that ran her letter, or her identity, although she did say she wasn’t a former co-worker of this reporter’s who had a similar name.“I do not write as a representative of any organization,” she said in an e-mail. “The letter I wrote was motivated by surprise and wonderment at the absence of any media support for our President, who won a record-breaking election by a landslide less than 18 months ago, and now, seems to be abandoned by all, supposedly for the infantile reason that he couldn’t make all of Bush’s errors disappear in one day.”
University of Missouri journalism professor Tom Rosenstiel, co-author of a textbook on journalistic values titled “The Elements of Journalism,” reacted with surprise and wonderment upon learning of Light’s widespread publication under multiple addresses.
He said newspapers might be able to avoid similar situations in the future by requesting street addresses and home telephone numbers from would-be correspondents, and verifying that those addresses and phone numbers exist.
“Just because it is inconvenient for us in the news business to find out who people are doesn’t mean it isn’t important anymore,” Rosenstiel said. “It is not OK for people to have multiple identities. This is something that people in the news business and in the business of printing “letters to the editor” need to be aware of.”
The Plain Dealer asks letter writers for a phone number for verification purposes.
This story was first posted at 4:54 p.m. Jan. 21.
Update: “Ellie Light” responded to this story in the comments below. Here’s what she had to say, and reporter Sabrina Eaton’s response.
I did answer Ms. Eaton’s questions about addresses and the letter’s authenticity. She identified herself as a journalist who covers Washington. There was lots to write about this week, for example Teddy Kennedy’ seat falling to a Republican, or the Supreme Court’s ruling allowing corporations to donate unlimited funds to causes they support. Both those events portend unimaginable consequences for democracy in this country. And Ms. Eaton, a “Washington” journalist, decides to spend a few minutes pasting snippets of letters into Google and come up with a story about a letter writer. I’m sure such domesticity and small-mindedness would make Sarah Palin quite proud.
I reported the item about you over several days in the spare moments I had between writing about yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling, today’s presidential visit to Ohio, and other national news that affects Ohio. That’s why there was a bit of a delay between our email exchange and the publication of this item. I do have plenty of work to do. But I also thought your successful publication in multiple newspapers using multiple hometowns was newsworthy
Your emails to me did not explain how you appeared to have so many addresses. I will reproduce them below, to satisfy the curiosity of any reader who might care:
MY INITIAL EMAIL
From: SABRINA EATON
To: Ellie Light
Sent: Mon, January 18, 2010 1:05:57 PM
Subject: Questions on your recent “letters to the editor” omnipresence
My name is Sabrina Eaton and I’m a reporter in the DC Bureau of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ohio’s largest newspaper. Years ago, I had an entry-level reporting job at the Bergen Record in New Jersey. A more experienced reporter there was named Ellie Light, and I wondered if you were the same person. I sent you an email about this a few days ago and got a reply back with the single letter “s,” and didn’t know what to make of it. So I did a “Google” search on you, as well as one on Lexis-Nexis, and was surprised at what I found.
This email of yours has apparently been published in scads of newspapers. Each of them lists you as residing in their circulation area. How can you simultaneously reside in Kellogg (Michigan), Midland (Michigan), Follansbee (W.Va.), Myrtle Beach (S.C), Waynesboro (Va), Vallejo (Ca.), Mansfield (OH), Salinas (Ca), and Three Rivers (N.M.)? I also found your Haiti email printed in the paper in Lebanon, (PA). That one claimed you reside in Cornwall.
How did your missive end up in all these different publications, citing all these different residences for you? Where do you actually live? What do you actually do for a living? Are you sending these emails at the behest of any organization or politician? Are you the same Ellie Light who was once a reporter for the Bergen Record? Please respond ASAP because I plan to write about this.
Plain Dealer, DC Bureau
ELLIE LIGHT’S INITIAL RESPONSE
>> Ellie Light 1/19/2010 12:20 AM >>>
I’m not the Ellie Light that reported in New Jersey. I suppose it’s a common name. I do not write as a representative of any organization. The letter I wrote was motivated by surprise and wonderment at the absence of any media support for our President, who won a record-breaking election by a landslide less than 18 months ago, and now, seems to be abandoned by all, supposedly for the infantile reason that he couldn’t make all of Bush’s errors disappear in a day. I think the wide interest in my letter is because of that vacuum, the appalling absence of support for the man we so recently, overwhelmingly elected.
A SECOND EMAIL EXCHANGE:
After sending you this initial email on Jan. 18, I realized I hadn’t enclosed my telephone number, so I sent you a second email that gave you my phone number, if you wanted to call me up. Your reply to that email said:
ELLIE LIGHT’S SECOND RESPONSE:
>>> Ellie Light 1/19/2010 12:46 AM >>>
I just saw that you included your phone number as well, and for such enthusiasm, I should probably provide you with a further explanation, instead of being quite so coy. In my other letter to you, I said I was disheartened by the lack of support for the President. But perhaps more importantly, the lack of thorough, well-reasoned arguments that can be found on both sides of this issue. As I’m sure you’ve observed, Obama became quickly as polarizing has Hilary ever was, and few people can see past their emotions on the issue. Most public discourse includes terms like “Wingnut,” “Drink the Kool-aid,” “Socialist” and other far less polite terms. I get called “trash” and “Crypto-Stalinist,” not only by the Sarah Palin fans, but by The Left, who is furious at The Prez for not opening up the health care debates to CSPAN cameras.
So the reason why I expanded my submission was because I found that editors were eager to present a point of view on the topic that wasn’t so overheated and angry. Indeed, I think the viewpoint that my letter expressed was less important to the editors than the even and non-emotional tone.
A FOLLOW-UP EMAIL FROM ME:
Because this email also failed to anwer my questions about the multiple addresses, I wrote you the below email, to which there was no reply:
Thanks for your response. But why did all those letters say you lived in all those different places? It seems quite peculiar.
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