The Cleveland Plain Dealer has blown the lid off the mystery of prolific letter-to-the-editor writer "Ellie Light" : She's Barbara Brooks, a California nurse. Except now Brooks says it's really her husband, Winston Steward (pictured). These people are weird.
The Plain Dealer has an extensive unmasking of "Ellie Light," who got in trouble with Politico and right-wing conspiracists for writing identical pro-Obama letters to a variety of newspapers, today. It includes a bunch of quotes from Barbara Lee Brooks, a California nurse who says things like, "I do it when I have something to say," and "by design, I talk to smaller presses, hoping to get a dialogue going with some of the editors and some of the readers," and "[I picked 'Ellie Light as a name because] it just sort of came to me." Sounds an awful lot like Barbara Lee Brooks was claiming to be Ellie Light. So what are we to make of this, from Brooks' Facebook page?
Brooks' husband, according to public records, is a guy named Winston Steward. That's his Facebook profile picture up top. None of this made any sense, so we called Brooks in Texas, where she also has a home. She says the Plain Dealer got it wrong.
"I'm not Ellie Light," she told us. "My husband is. I never told anybody that I was Ellie Light. Winston wrote every single letter. He's been doing it since he saw that the Gulf War was being fought under false pretenses. I told him from the beginning that he shouldn't write letters under phony names, but he wanted to get them out there."
So why did she tell the Plain Dealer, in the clearest possible terms, that she was, in fact, responsible for the Ellie Light correspondence? "That wasn't me," she says. "I don't know how they got that. Maybe my husband was impersonating me." As evidence, she cites this clip of her husband calling into Michael Smerconish's radio show to claim responsibility for the letters. Steward called in and spoke in his regular voice, and neither Smerconish nor any other listener apparently caught on to the fact that he was a man. If he can pretend to be a woman on the radio without really trying, Brooks says, maybe he talked to the Plain Dealer's reporter, too. Brooks told us that she's called the Plain Dealer to alert them, and they've since added an update at the top of the story.
To make matters more confusing, we've received an e-mail from an apparently different person claiming to be Ellie Light, offering a different phone number than any listed for Brooks or Steward. We've called and haven't heard back. There are two lessons to be learned here: 1) Don't pay attention to the sort of people who write letters to USA Today, and 2) We are all Ellie Light.
UPDATE: Brooks has spoken to the Plain Dealer, and said pretty much the same thing she told us, except she added that she and Steward (whom she repeatedly described to us as her "husband") were divorced in Texas a year ago. Asked by the Plain Dealer to substantiate that claim, Brooks supplied her divorce attorney's name: "Tabone Enklery." Needless to say, there's no attorney by that name registered with the Texas Bar Association. Tabone Enklery!
SECOND UPDATE: Because this story is exceedingly annoying, we failed to catch the Plain Dealer's distinction between "husky-voiced Barbara Brooks" (in other words, Steward) and plain old Barbara Brooks (Steward's wife/ex-wife) in the preceding update. So it was actually Steward who was claiming that he and Brooks were divorced and cited Tabone Enkelry, not Brooks. To top it all off, the Plain Dealer has scrubbed the Enkelry passage from its story, depriving its readers of one of the greatest made-up names ever. If you've been able to follow this paragraph, you have too much time on your hands.