An unfolding national mystery/hoax struck Maine earlier this month, when a woman named Ellie Light wrote letters that were published in three newspapers in Maine and seacoast New Hampshire, claiming to be from towns in each of the papers' coverage areas.
As the Cleveland Plain Dealer has been reporting now for a few days, Ellie Light isn't from anywhere near here (and a person purporting to be her e-mailed me today saying she lives in southern California). She apparently decided to pretend she was, to get her letter published nationally.
Seems, at the base level, she wrote a letter - or a few variants of the same basic letter - and e-mailed it off to something approaching 100 local and regional papers around the country, and even some of national significance and internationally. (When was the last time the Bangor Daily News was mentioned in the same sentence as the Bangkok Post?)
Also struck were the Rockland Free Press and the Portsmouth Herald, which is the only one of the three to have any notice on its Web site that the letter is of dubious origin.
At the BDN, editor-in-chief Michael Dowd was not aware of the issue, and passed questions to editorial-page editor Susan Dowd, who said she was aware of the situation and was planning on printing a correction stating that Light is not from Bangor. Dowd says "one of my colleagues" called Light at a phone number that came with the e-mail, and "she lied," saying she was from Bangor.
At the Portsmouth Herald, editorial-page editor Cal Killeen says he found out about it after seeing a story online that listed his own paper as one that had published her letter. Killeen says the letter originally came in unsigned to another editor, who responded that the paper would need her name and the town she lives in before being able to run the letter. She responded "Ellie Jeanne Light" and "Portsmouth."
"We didn't ask for a phone number because it was a non-controversial letter," Killeen says, though agreeing that it's controversial now because of the story surrounding it. "It sounds to me like a definite hoax," he says.
UPDATED: I talked to Alice McFadden, publisher at the Rockland Free Press, who had not heard of the hoax until my phone call, but said she would look into it. UPDATE2: McFadden says her editor called Light, who replied that she was from Rockland.
A message left at the number the BDN got for Ellie Light has not yet been returned - but I'll keep you posted if that happens too!
And in lieu of anything else, here's the message I got this morning from firstname.lastname@example.org (and though she says "again" at the outset, this is the first message I have gotten from her):
OK, you guys, it's Ellie Light again. It's been suggested that I'm Michelle Obama, Award-winning author Samantha Powers, and not to be outdone, the Michelle Bachmann people figure that I am "NONE OTHER THAN THE POTUS HIMSELF." Someone found an Ellie Light on Facebook, a woman married to a software designer, and decided that had to be significant somehow. Another blog moderator drew a connection between one of my responses and the name "Winston," and decided I was part of a PR firm named "Winston Group." And in a bit of hagiography worthy of Talmudic scholars, a reader noted that my letter's reference to "Candidate Obama," sounded similar to "Comrade Obama," and thus, betrayed the President's Marxist-Leninist origins. Another astute observer noticed my British spelling of the world "realise," and reported this straightaway to a senior moderator, who congratulated her for her fine detective work. A grammar-aware sleuth, armed with my mix-up of their/there and let's/lets, went i n search of clues. She returned with a whole trove of letters supposedly written by me, published online in Baltimore. Of course, all your blogs contain the usual references to Axelrod and Plouffe implying that the President's closest advisors sit up nights furiously scribbling pro-Obama missives, and sending them to anyone who might read them. Apparently, no one thought to ask that if All the President's Men really were to embark on such a scheme to fake a groundswell of Obama-support, why in the world would they sign each letter with the same name? Alright, then. Take a deep breath and accept that you've all been a bit silly. Let's imagine a much more plausible scenario. Frustrated Obama-supporter writes letter to some blogs, asking why are we so harsh on our new President? Ben Stein picks up my letter, and even pays me a backhanded compliment in the process (check out the chronology of submissions. They match this). Star-struck girl sees letter in print, accompanied by angry comments from dozens of frothing Tea-partiers. She decides that perhaps she's quite brilliant after all, and sends her letter around to a few more papers. Voila! The letters are printed, and Ellie's friends (my friends), all remark that they never get their letters published, and what's so special about Ellie's letters. So Ellie, feeling smug and superior, indulges in a bit more self-validation, and submits her letter again…. and again! Then one fateful day, Ms. Eaton from the Cleveland Plain Dealer does her Google search, and a conspiracy theor y is born!Now, I know you guys are almost as big on conspiracy theories as my FEMA-hating lefty pals, and are not about to just let something this juicy go away, especially since the more fanciful theories about me are sending Tea-blog readership through the roof. The guy over at Left-Coast Something-Something flat out says that he's never been onto anything so big. He couldn't hide is excitement. I mean, how often do you people find someone new to hate? I'm sure its exhilarating. So why didn't I lie low and be happy that you guys are spinning your wheels so fruitlessly? Because part of me just can't resist clearing the air. Part of me hates to see anyone, even political opponents, carrying on in such a brainless, ridiculous pastime.