New York

Fakers News, Beware

by

If you loved the juicy stories about Armstrong Williams and other commentators who were on the Bush administration payroll, stay tuned.

The State Department’s freedom of information office is trolling through a batch of requests from media organizations for the details of several million dollars in PR contracts that have been awarded in the past few years.

Several news outlets (including the Voice) have agreed to piggyback on a very broad freedom of information request by USA Today, which broke the Williams story.

The payments to Williams and others are only one form of media manipulation that has Bush critics screaming at their TV screens. Another tactic that’s generating a lot of ire is the use of video news releases—the promotional videos featuring fake reporters used by companies and government agencies to hype their good works.

As previously reported here, the Government Accountability Office has found that two sets of Bush administration VNRs violated laws against cover propaganda. The GAO has advised federal agencies that they must disclose within each VNR that the video is a promotional message, not a news report. But the White House has told federal agencies to ignore the GAO’s suggestion. An organization called Free Press says it has submitted to the FCC 40,000 signatures on a petition protesting “fake news.”

Amid the justified hubbub over VNRs is an important but somewhat touchy issue—touchy because it puts the media, not the Bush administration, in the spotlight.

The VNRs are criticized because they often include rehearsed exchanges between reporters and government officials, and never mention doubts or criticism of the government programs in question. Yet they are considered dangerous because they “look” like any other report on the local news.

Propaganda’s naughty. But isn’t kind of sad that the real stuff on the local news is so hard to distinguish from propaganda?