http://www.tennessean.com/local/archives/04/12/63065885.shtml?Element_ID=63065885 Campaign of deception used to push patriotic song up charts By JEANNE ANNE NAUJECK Staff Writer Country singer Chely Wright said yesterday she was dismissing the head of her fan club and shutting down a team of volunteers after The Tennessean learned that some of them posed as members of the military or their families to promote her latest song. Seventeen members of a handpicked team of fans contacted radio stations around the country asking for more airplay for Wright's pro-military ballad, The Bumper of My SUV. It was all part of an organized campaign by leaders of the fan club who encouraged the team to do such things as ''tell 'em your husband is a marine whatever it takes.'' After Wright learned that The Tennessean intended to publish an article about the campaign in today's newspaper, she issued a statement saying that she had dismissed Chuck Walter, a longtime friend who has headed her fan club since 1996. Wright said she was ''shocked, saddened and deeply upset by this unethical behavior.'' She said Walter was ''an unpaid volunteer who acted without my knowledge or direction.'' In an interview a day earlier, Wright had described Walter as ''my best friend. We talk all the time, about everything.'' The success of Bumper has been a bit unusual compared with the way things generally go in country music. Last week the song was listed by Billboard magazine as the second fastest-selling single in country music even though Wright no longer has a deal with a major record label. The promotional power of a major label is usually essential in getting sales as well as radio play. The Bumper of My SUV is being distributed independently and the song has appeared to be getting unusual grass-roots support. Some radio stations have reported lots of calls and e-mails from listeners who want to hear Bumper played including members of the military and their families. Last week The Tennessean learned that many of those calls and e-mails were coming from a team of 17 fan club members who were encouraged to pose as either members of the armed forces or their spouses and contact radio stations around the country asking for the song to be played. Increased airplay not only can move a song up the Billboard charts, resulting in publicity, but also can acquaint more people with the song and bring additional record sales. One member of the campaign team was Stephanie Hoffpauir, a 31-year-old music teacher from Lafayette, La., who contacted The Tennessean and said she was stepping forward because her conscience was bothered by what the team was doing for Wright. ''The whole military thing, it was just wrong. She's not stepping on other artists, she's stepping on troops,'' Hoffpauir said. ''You can play aggressive, you can play tough, but when you out and out cheat, that's when you cross the line to being unethical.'' Hoffpauir said that while she contacted radio stations about Bumper she did not use the made-up stories, instead talking about her brother-in-law who is in the Air National Guard and has served in Iraq. Hoffpauir said the campaign was led by Walter and the fan club's vice president, Sharon Constantine of Houston. Constantine's status wasn't addressed by Wright's statement yesterday. ''When Bumper came out, I think they were getting desperate. I think because they want her in country music stardom, and I think they felt this is kind of her last chance,'' Hoffpauir said yesterday. Wright was named the Top New Female Vocalist by the Academy of Country Music in 1995. Her biggest hit was in 1999 with Single White Female. Contacted Friday in New York where he works on Wall Street, Walter initially said there was no effort to get fans to call radio stations on behalf of The Bumper of My SUV. Later he acknowledged the campaign but said it was ''normal for any song.'' Many record labels mobilize fans to call and e-mail radio stations to request songs. When asked whether he had suggested that anyone pose as either a member of the military or a relative of one when contacting radio stations, Walter initially did not respond and said he would have to get back to a Tennessean reporter. In a later phone call on Friday he denied posting messages asking people to lie. Wright said in an interview Friday that while she was very involved in the activities of her fan club, she had no knowledge of callers being asked to lie about their identities and would not condone it. ''I don't read my own message boards,'' she said. ''About once a year I'll go on there and do a chat with them.'' The Bumper of My SUV, which was written by Wright, tells how she was driving down West End Avenue in Nashville in her SUV when someone saw her bumper sticker supporting the troops and made an obscene gesture. The song calls for support of the troops no matter what a person thinks of the war in Iraq. Wright said she sang it when she entertained U.S. troops in Iraq. The song received such a positive response that she thought people back in the United States ought to hear it. Bumper has ranked No. 44 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart each of the past three weeks. The chart is based on radio play at stations Billboard tracks. John Sebastian, programmer at country station WSM-FM 95.5 in Nashville, said Thursday that Bumper has generated a lot of caller interest in recent weeks. He also said he believed the fan reaction was sincere. ''We had people crying on the phone, saying that it resonated with them,'' he said, adding that listeners told him of ''their brother or their boyfriend or their father or their husband'' in the military. Hoffpauir said she was given a prepaid calling card and instructions on how to mask calls by hitting a code on her telephone keypad so radio stations wouldn't know she was calling from out of state. ''They also gave us tips on how to be more successful with DJs, so we didn't get caught. If you were calling Seattle, let's say, you'd go to Map Quest, find the address of a Home Depot and tell the DJ you worked there, little tricks,'' Hoffpauir said. Hoffpauir provided The Tennessean with e-mails that she said were sent from Constantine to members of the team. She also provided the password to a protected section of Chely Wright's fan Web site that contained messages for the team. Hoffpauir said some of the postings and instructions on that site came from Walter, who posted messages under the name ''Chuck.'' Here are verbatim examples from the message board: On Nov. 22, ''Chuck'' urged team members to call several Kansas City radio stations and ''tell 'em your husband is a marine whatever it takes.'' On Oct. 30, ''Chuck'' said he had called about 40 radio stations under the name ''Sgt. Steve McKay.'' On Oct. 28, ''Chuck'' posted this message: ''Sob stories and just telling how this song has affected u r going to work best. This song is what they call a reaction record and we need reaction.'' On Oct. 25, ''Chuck'' suggested fans log on to military message boards and talk up the song. ''You can also fib a little and say you are in the armed forces and how this song needs to be heard u get the picture,'' he wrote. A separate e-mail to team members from Constantine contained a message that Hoffpauir said was forwarded from Walter. It said: ''I think with the Texas stations we should say I am a Marine or Navy and so on, and tell the station they know of the song and in honor of them they should play it it's worth a try.'' The e-mail is dated Dec. 14. An Oct. 25 e-mail to ''special mission team'' from ''Sharon'' said, ''Remember this is a small group of special people, and as you know it has to be between us and only us (of course Chuck and Chely know LOL). We can't tell a soul outside of our family, so radio doesn't catch on.'' ''LOL'' is Internet shorthand for ''laughing out loud.'' Other e-mails encouraged the team to copy letters purportedly from women with Marine husbands in Iraq and adapt them for use in contacting radio stations. The song, Bumper, was inspired by Wright's brother, a Marine. The letters, which Hoffpauir said came from Constantine were signed ''Sally Craig'' or ''Sally Vincent.'' ''Thank you for playing that new song by Chely Wright,'' one of the letters said. ''My name is Sally Vincent. My husband Craig is currently in Iraq defending our country ... This song is so important to us. Not just family of Marines but families of anyone who has someone serving this country-no matter what branch.'' Hoffpauir said the letter was prefaced with the following message from Constantine. ''Here are some letters Chuck sends out and gets great responses. We thought we'd share with all of you to give more ideas on what to write. If I missed someone that is on the team, please send it to them.'' The e-mail was signed Sharon. Constantine did not return messages left for her by The Tennessean on Friday and Saturday. Julie Stevens, program director at 95.3 KRTY-FM in San Jose, Calif., said she got an angry e-mail from a ''Sally Craig'' after Stevens had called Bumper a ''manipulative, smarmy, trivial song'' in an e-mail message from what she thought was a local listener. She said she also received responses from about 30 other Wright fans calling her various ugly names. Hoffpauir said Constantine recruited her in March for the campaign work over lunch in Lafayette, in the heart of Louisiana's Cajun country. ''I liked her music and was completely sold on her vision,'' Hoffpauir said of Wright. Today, Hoffpauir said she has a different opinion. ''I just lost so much respect for her,'' she said. Actual text of e-mails fan club members were asked to copy Below is the actual text of letters Stephanie Hoffpauir says she and others received in a Dec. 6 e-mail from Sharon Constantine and were asked to use in a phone-in campaign to radio stations on behalf of Chely Wright's The Bumper of My SUV: Here are some letters Chuck sends out and gets great responses. We thought we'd share with all of you to give more ideas on what to write. If I missed someone that is on the team, please send it to them. Sharon Thank you for playing that new song by Chely Wright. My name is Sally Vincent. My husband Criag is currently in Iraq defending our country. I am part of the states Marine family group. We have thousands of members all over the state. At our meeting on Friday everyone was talking about this new song and what we could do as a group to make sure it is heard. This song is so important to us. Not just family of Marines but families of anyone who has someone serving this country-no matter what branch. What Chely sings about happening to her happens to families like ours more then one would care to remember. None of us want war but we have to support the troops for this is their job.