ALEX CHADWICK, host:
Congress is moving closer to passing a bill that could steer as much as 300 billion dollars to homeowners who are hurt by the housing downturn. But some are not happy with this plan. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal today, an online site called AngryRenter.com has had more than 44,000 people sign a petition protesting the bailout package. The journal also says the site is a fake grassroots effort. With us is Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Phillips, who wrote the story. Michael, what is the essence of this here? What have you got?
Mr. MICHAEL PHILLIPS (Reporter, Wall Street Journal): Well, the AngryRenter.com site purports to be a grassroots site coming from the public. In fact, it's a production of an organization called FreedomWorks, which is chaired by Dick Armey, the former House majority leader, a Republican from Texas. Another board member, Steve Forbes, well-known publishing magnate and others, and these are guys who are very interested in Libertarian views, free market views. And this site is the attempt of their organization to generate an aura of grassroots-i-ness for their work in opposing the bailout.
CHADWICK: They opposed the bailout because they say, look - both lenders and borrowers got in trouble. They took risks they shouldn't have taken, they couldn't afford, and the federal government shouldn't be helping them out.
Mr. PHILLIPS: That is the argument they make on the surface and I don't know that that's not an argument they believe. It's certainly is a consistent argument - their political views.
CHADWICK: Mr. Armey, a former House majority leader for the Republican Party, works for this organization, FreedomWorks. And they have put up this kind of - I think almost artful site, AngryRenter.com, because it looks like a kind of an amateur grassroots sort of site, doesn't it?
Mr. PHILLIPS: It does. It's obviously intended to look like kind of a - I describe it as a ransom-note-like feel to it, you know, with clipped on arrows and dollar signs and exclamation points. It's like an anger that the creators feel about the possibility of bailout. But of course, the people who put this together themselves are not angry renters.
CHADWICK: No. You're going to say, they own a lot of million-dollar homes. In part of the text of this AngryRenters.com is, we don't have lobbyists. They are lobbyists.
Mr. PHILLIPS: They are lobbyists. Dick Armey is himself a lobbyist for a firm called DLA Piper. At one point, Peter Morris himself did some lobbying but they don't have any registered lobbyist at the moment. These are Washington insiders. they know how to play the game. they created this very site in order to play the game.
CHADWICK: You write that the term for this kind of manipulation is Astroturf. It's a fake grassroots.
Mr. PHILLIPS: I wish I made that term up. Yes, exactly. It's not real grassroots. It's the kind that they might put on a football field.
CHADWICK: When you called Mr. Armey's office in FreedomWorks and sort of confronted them with this, are they embarrassed by...
Mr. PHILLIPS: No. I mean, to be completely fair to them, they - you know, they put their copyright on the site. FreedomWorks is the copyright on the site and they - and if you go to the back pages, you can find them as the source and you can go to the FreedomWorks site an figure out who FreedomWorks is. So, they're not making a big effort to hide this. One has to be very fair to them about that.
That said, the way that this whole site is created, is to give the appearance of a spontaneous uprising of anger amongst renters. And I would like to point out something, which is that they do - I think, tap a serious vein of discomfort and discontent in - amongst many people in the country about the possibility of government money going to a housing rescue. It's a very divisive issue. There are a lot of people out there who think that that's not a good way to spend government money. So the core issue that they're getting to with this site is a very real one even if their technique is a bit fake-y.
CHADWICK: Michael Phillips of the Wall Street Journal. Michael, thank you.
Mr. PHILLIPS: Thank you.