How Did This Man Gain Overnight Fame

  • Winston Steward has asked that his current photo be used only in the print issue of The Mountain Enterprise, and that it not be used online. This photo is from two decades ago. His letter to the editor supporting President Obama was signed

    Winston Steward has asked that his current photo be used only in the print issue of The Mountain Enterprise, and that it not be used online. This photo is from two decades ago. His letter to the editor supporting President Obama was signed "Ellie Light" and sent to 120 publications across the country. Tea Party bloggers and Fox News say the letter was published in up to 70 newspapers in 31 states and two foreign countries. They charged "Democratic astroturf conspiracy" when Ellie Light was said to have 30 hometowns. Overnight "Ellie Light" became famous on political blogs.

And Is He Really a Leprechaun…?

By Patric Hedlund

He’s an author who has at least five books for sale on He’s a musician who had a recording contract. He’s a philanthropist who raises money for Oxfam International which is providing aid in Haiti. And in January this Pine Mountain resident became nationally famous overnight. But not for any of these accomplishments.

Winston Steward’s neighbor compares his appearance to “a leprechaun.” And yes, central casting might agree. At just over five feet, he would tower over a munchkin, but has a face as kind as the beloved good guys in The Wizard of Oz.

I went to visit Steward, 51 this week at his mountain home, which he uses mainly for a recording studio. He laughs easily but thoughtfully. His wide eyes hold an intelligent twinkle as he tells what occurred last month to make him the most famous author in these mountains—at least among Fox TV fans and online sites dedicated to sounding the alert about “the international communist-nazi-jihad-conspiracy” led by President Barack Obama.

Here’s the spark that lit the fire: Steward is a digital crossdresser.

The proud father of two grown children is also a self-admitted geek, his book titles are techie tomes like Every Family’s Guide to Computers; Corel Draw—Eight Secrets; and Digital Video Solutions. He is comfortable in the genderless world of cyberspace, and often uses a pen name.

Shortly after the Massachusetts election which eliminated the Democrats’ supermajority in the U.S. Senate, he sent the same letter to the editors of about 120 newspapers [he did not include The Mountain Enterprise, his actual local paper, in that mailing].

The letter asked that people give President Obama—still in his first year of office—time to govern. His concern is that “the left has abandoned the president” and he signed the letter with the name “Ellie Light.”

If you believe the angry choir of internet bloggers, cheered along by Fox TV’s Sean Hannity and Michelle Malkin, up to 80 newspapers in 31 states printed the same Ellie Light letter on their opinion pages in January, including USA Today.

She became a quick celebrity villainess among Tea Party vigilantes. What caught the conspiracists’ attention is that Ellie had many different hometowns. In fact, it appeared that she lived in 30 cities simultaneously.

As the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s forensic account traces, “USA Today and the Washington Times cited her residence as Long Beach, CA.

“Other papers listed her as living elsewhere in California, as well as in Ohio, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.”

Steward explains how he did it.

“I didn’t put any hometown on the letter. I put ‘permission granted to freely publish this letter’ and a skype [internet telephone] number. I received about 20-30 calls” from editorial page fact checkers, calling to verify the letter writer’s identity and residence.

Steward said that when newspapers called, his skype lit up with their address. When they asked Ellie where she lived… yes, s/he fibbed.

In a soft voice, “Ellie” told them s/he lived in the town that showed up on the skype caller- ID. And so editors—secure that they’d done the right thing— printed Ellie’s letter.

Today, in his living room, surrounded by his recording gear, Steward says, “I learned that maybe I shouldn’t have done that. I didn’t know it was wrong. I thought people wanted to publish the letter because no one else was saying these things, and that people might want to read it.”

The bloggers attribute his actions to a “left-wing astroturf conspiracy,” paid for by pro-Obama Washington D.C. publicists.

The flap has been a little unsettling to Steward, who is concerned about the safety of his children and his friends who were on his Facebook page. Many received drilling calls from Tea Party troopers filled with anger. He will allow his photo to be used in the print issue of The Mountain Enterprise, but not online.

To his credit, Steward has been helpful to all the concerned journalists who have called him trying to learn how he could have left so many publications feeling “punked.”

He was consistent in his answers and sincerely impressed to learn how earnestly local newspapers feel about their duty to print the truth and to prevent deception. For his part, Steward says at 51 he is seeking a new civility in American politics:

“When I was a little kid I remember Nixon saying ‘I am not a crook’ and we drew donkey ears on his photos. We started making fun of everybody. We made fun of Carter for moralizing: ‘I have sinned in my heart…’ Now this is the standard that we apply to the highest office in the land.

“We think we are gadflies, but I am beginning to question…. We aren’t ‘keeping them honest.’ We are making them worry about the way they look for this fleeting 15 seconds. Is anybody’s interest being served by this? There is a coarsening of discourse in our country.

“What I would like to see is for people to elect a president who you respect. Don’t elect someone you will turn on a year later. Elect someone whose back you will still have after governing through a very difficult time in this country. What’s wrong with a little loyalty? But we Democrats like to be seen as ideologically free, to burnish our own appearance of objectivity. These days, who wants to sound like Ellie Light?”

This is part of the February 05, 2010 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

Have an opinion on this matter? We'd like to hear from you.