A mystery writer who goes under the name "Ellie Light" has had her letter to the editor defending President Obama published in newspapers across the country -- but is someone pulling a fast one?
The prolific writer's piece has appeared in more than 70 newspapers in the last three weeks. However, Light has claimed to live in dozens of different cities ranging from Long Beach, Calif., to Huntsville, Ala. -- depending on which newspaper he or she was writing for -- fueling speculation that the letter was an inside job.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer was the first to report on the Ellie Light phenomenon. The newspaper claimed to have received the letter Jan. 16 -- it did not list a hometown, and the newspaper did not publish it.
But dozens of newspapers did.
The Web site Patterico's Pontifications, which has compiled a comprehensive list of Ellie Light appearances, found the letter so far has shown up in 68 newspapers across 31 states and the District of Columbia. Three national publications -- Politico, The Washington Times and USA Today -- also ran the letter, as did two foreign publications.
Newspapers are starting to catch on.
The Green Bay Press-Gazette, which ran the submission Jan. 13, issued an apology on Monday for the "bogus letter," acknowledging that it had been duped by someone.
"The editors of the (Gannett Wisconsin Media) papers exercised due diligence to one degree or another, in most cases calling the phone number provided by the writer to confirm she was the author. However, she responded with false information and a series of different hometowns," the newspaper explained. "We still believe in the inherent honesty of many letter writers, but this case will find us reviewing the incident to determine whether additional safeguards are necessary. We apologize that this letter appeared on our Web site."
The newspaper said the letter ran in three GWM newspapers, and as a result it also appeared on its Web site.
It's unclear who Light is or where he or she comes from.
A person claiming to be Light called into Michael Smerconish's Philadelphia radio show Tuesday morning. On the show, a clip of which was posted on Politico.com, she described herself as a "traveling nurse" and admitted to fabricating hometown addresses.
"I need to own up that I did misrepresent my location in some of those places," the caller said.
The Plain Dealer later reported that it, too, found a traveling nurse who owned up to the letters. Only this individual said his, or her, real name is Barbara Brooks. And the plot thickened. The Plain Dealer found another woman in Texas claiming to be Brooks, who told the newspaper that the person claiming to be her is actually her husband, Winston Steward. The Texas Brooks told the newspaper that Steward is "making up all kinds of garbage" for fear of being targeted by "right-wing crazies."
In the original letter to the editor, "Ellie" defended Obama's record in office and wrote that the president was the victim of inflated expectations.
"A year ago, if we had read in the paper that employers were hiring again, that health care legislation was proceeding without a bump and that Afghanistan suddenly became a nice place to take your kids, we would've known we were being lied to. Back then, we recognized that the problems President Obama inherited wouldn't go away overnight," the Ellie Jeanne Light of Long Beach, Calif., wrote in the Jan. 22 edition of USA Today.
"But today, the president is being attacked as if he were a salesman who promised us that our problems would wash off in the morning. He never made such a promise. 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."
The rapid-fire spread of that letter in papers across the country has created a major buzz on blogs and other popular Web sites.
A "Who is Ellie Light?" page was even created on Facebook. The page, which includes a picture of Obama's face on a woman's body, suggests that "phony Astroturfing" is behind the letter.
But Light, or the person claiming to be Light, in an earlier e-mail to the Plain Dealer denied she, or he, was part of any organized political campaign.