A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from January 29, 2011
Astroturf (Astroturfing)

"AstroTurf” is a proprietary name (trademarked in 1968) for an artificial grass. While a “grassroots” political campaign has authentic support, an “astroturf” campaign is planned public relations, often with paid supporters writing scripted letters to politicians and newspapers.

Lloyd Bentsen (1921-2006), the U.S. Senator from Texas, said in 1985 about the letters his Senate office received on an issue, “A fellow from Texas can tell the difference between grass roots and AstroTurf. This is generated mail.” Bentsen often used the “AstroTurf” (also spelled “Astroturf” and “astroturf") term and possibly coined its political use. The term “astroturfing” has been cited in print since at least 1993.


Wikipedia: Astroturfing
Astroturfing denotes political, advertising, or public relations campaigns that are formally planned by an organization, but are disguised as spontaneous, popular “grassroots” behavior. The term refers to AstroTurf, a brand of synthetic carpeting designed to look like natural grass.

The goal of such campaigns is to disguise the efforts of a political and/or commercial entity as an independent public reaction to some political entity—a politician, political group, product, service or event. Astroturfers attempt to orchestrate the actions of apparently diverse and geographically distributed individuals, by both overt ("outreach", “awareness”, etc.) and covert (disinformation) means. Astroturfing may be undertaken by an individual promoting a personal agenda, or highly organized professional groups with money from large corporations, unions, non-profits, or activist organizations. Very often, the efforts are conducted by political consultants who also specialize in opposition research. Beneficiaries are not “grass root” campaigners but distant organizations that orchestrate such campaigns.

Word origin
The term is said to have been used first in this context by former US Senator Lloyd Bentsen of Texas in 1985. It is wordplay based on grassroots democracy efforts—truly spontaneous undertakings largely sustained by private persons—as opposed to politicians, governments, corporations, or public-relations firms. AstroTurf refers to the bright green artificial grass used in some sports stadiums, so “astroturfing” refers to imitating or faking popular grassroots opinion or behaviour.

This practice is specifically prohibited by the code of ethics of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), the national associations for members of the public-relations and communication profession in the United States, Australia and the UK respectively. As private organizations, the most significant punishment the PRSA, PRIA and CIPR can hand out to members who engage in astroturfing is revocation of association membership. Although the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) does not specifically mention astroturfing, it does require honest communication.

Techniques
Astroturfing is a form of propaganda whose techniques usually consist of a few people attempting to give the impression that mass numbers of enthusiasts advocate some specific cause. In the UK this technique is better known as “rent-a-crowd” after the successful “rent-a-crate” business.

US Senator Lloyd Bentsen, believed to have coined the term, was quoted by the Washington Post in 1985 using it to describe a “mountain of cards and letters” sent to his Senate office to promote insurance industry interests, which Bentsen dismissed as “generated mail.”

Wikipedia: AstroTurf
AstroTurf is a brand of artificial turf. Although the term is a registered trademark, it is sometimes used as a generic description of any kind of artificial turf. The original AstroTurf product was a short pile synthetic turf while the current products incorporate modern features such as antimicrobial protection, rubber infill, backing systems and nylon yarn fibers and plastic. The prime reason to incorporate AstroTurf on game fields was to reduce the cost of laying natural turf.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
Astroturf, n.
A proprietary name for a kind of artificial grass surface (first used in the Astrodome indoor sports stadium at Houston, Texas).
1966 Daily Tel. 21 Apr. 16/6 Houston had spent £11 million building its mammoth, air-conditioned Astrodome.‥ Now‥[they are] spending £180,000 on a carpet of synthetic turf, called‥Astroturf.
1968 Official Gaz. (U.S. Patent Office) 3 Dec. tm6/2 Astroturf. For plastic materials in the form of fibers, filaments, ribbon-like extrusions.
1968 Trade Marks Jrnl. 11 Dec. 2164/2 Astroturf.‥ Ropes, string, nets and sacks‥tents, awnings (textile), tarpaulins, sails, padding and stuffing materials‥and raw fibrous textile materials. Monsanto Company.

Wikiquote: Lloyd Bentsen
Lloyd Millard Bentsen Jr. (February 11, 1921 – May 23, 2006) was a four-term United States senator (1971 until 1993) from Texas and the Democratic Party nominee for Vice President in 1988. He also served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1949 to 1955 and as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and as U.S. Treasury Secretary.

Sourced
[A] fellow from Texas can tell the difference between grass-roots and AstroTurf.
. Apparent 1985 coining of the term astroturfing, meaning “creating or operating fake ‘grass-roots’ campaigns”
. Cited in Young, Henry (2 November 2009). “Astroturf Lobbying Organizations: Do Fake Grassroots Need Real Regulation”. Illinois Business Law Journal. Retrieved on 2010-03-27.

Google Books
Hatchet Jobs and Hardball:
The Oxford dictionary of American political slang

By Grant Barrett
New York, NY: Oxford University Press
2004
Pg. 34:
AstroTurf n. [fr. an artificial grass used to cover sports fields] an orchestrated grass-roots movement intended to appear spontaneous.
1985 Washington Post (Aug. 7):
“A fellow from Texas can tell the difference between grass roots and Astro Turf,” Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.) said of his mountain of cards and letters from opponents of the insurance provisions. “This is generated mail.”
1990 Washington Post (May 12) A19:
The AFL-CIO has been “flooded” with letters, phone calls and telegrams, overwhelmingly against the federation taking any position on abortion....Rather than concede the sincerity of those who want the AFL-CIO to remain neutral on abortion, he snidely remarked, “I’ve been around a while, and I think I can tell grass roots from Astroturf.”
1993 Mother Jones (Sept-Oct.):
A massive letter-writing campaign...generated over 50,000 form letters and messages, sent to dozens of congresspersons. Not everyone was impressed. “Is it grassroots or Astroturf?”

19 April 1986, National Journal, “Playing on astroturf”:
Issue-oriented newspaper advertisements featuring clip-out coupons are often designed to show that the sponsor’s goal has grass-roots support. But the “grass roots is AstroTurf in many cases, artificial turf,” says Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, D-Texas. A case in point, in his view, is the recent ad campaign by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States against increases in excise taxes on liquor. Bentsen reports that a third of the 190 coupons his office received were altered to express support for tax increases that the coupon says could raise the price of a bottle of liquor $2 and “put a lot of people in the beverage alcohol business out of work.”

31 October 1988, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “Massive Spending by Builders Tilts Odds Facing Citizens’ Initiative on Limits” by Leonard Bernstein, Metro, pg. 1:
The builders’ opponents dismiss the claims contemptuously. “That’s not grass-roots, it’s Astroturf,” snorted Peter Navarro, economic adviser for Citizens for Limited Growth, who said that the builders’ effort is based primarily around their ability to conduct frequent polls and spread “lies.”

20 February 1993, Washington (DC) Times, “Bentsen to critics: Put up or shut up”:
Recycling a favorite line, he (Senator Lloyd Bentsen—ed.) said, “After 22 years in the Senate, I know the difference between the grass roots and AstroTurf.”

20 August 1993, Lethbridge (Alberta) Herald, “Washington Report” by Barb Sweet, pg. A4, col. 1:
This form of grassroots campaigning—form letters and pre-printed cards—is known as “astroturfing.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Saturday, January 29, 2011 • Permalink