One of the most effective rhetorical moments I can see in my mind's eye--although, alas, I have forgotten the context--is that of Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen icily glaring across the conference table at somebody and saying: "I am old enough to know the difference between 'grassroots' and 'astroturf'."
This morning Teresa Nielsen Hayden tells us to go read Rational Grounds:
Making Light: More astroturf: In "Deceiving Us Has Become an Industrial Process," the weblog Rational Grounds has far exceeded the old post of mine he quotes, Common Fraud, in examining how pervasive corporate-sponsored fake grassroots organizations have become:
Josh Marshall is currently beating the drum against Koch Industries... reading his comments I was bowled over by the number of astroturf groups involved in this little network. You've got Social Security for All, who are actually Americans for Prosperity, who are actually the Independent Women's Forum.... Citizens for a Sound Economy (now merged with Empower America to become Freedom Works)... they also had a hand... lobbying for the tobacco companies going back to 1994.... The bizarre advocacy network the government has worked up for No Child Left Behind is probably more famous... Armstrong Williams and the illegal fake-news blocks the Bush administration put out.... The Medicare and Armstrong parts of this saga are run through a PR and marketing firm named Ketchum.... Democracy, Data & Communications... oodles of DDC fronts.... All those stories about wacky lawsuits and outrageous settlements? Lies.... I have to wonder - how many of my opinions about my world are bought and paid for?
Answer: a lot of them, unless you've gone through and cleaned out every compartment. I don't want to give myself undue credit for precocity, but I started noticing there was something funny going on when I was a kid reading my grandparents' copies of Readers Digest. That was where I first heard about juries making ridiculous awards in personal-injury cases. It made interesting reading, but after a while it occurred to me that I never saw articles about reasonable and justifiable personal injury awards. Surely there had to be some? Likewise articles in which the IRS wasn't a monster, and labor unions had some good reason to exist, and politicians weren't all windbags, layabouts, and snake oil salesmen.
I doubt we'll ever know the whole history of astroturf. I suspect it goes back further and spreads wider than most sane people have ever imagined.