by Chris Bowers, Mon Jan 10, 2005 at 08:33:01 AM EST
My question is, just how deep does the rabbit hole go? So far, the Bush administration has been caught doing this four times in just the last eight months. First, last May:May 20--When the Bush administration distributed mock news videos to promote its Medicare prescription drug law, it violated federal restrictions against using taxpayer money for propaganda, according to a May 19 report from the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO).
After the prescription drug bill passed last fall, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and its Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) distributed video "news releases" to television stations around the country praising the drug program. In the videos, actors portray reporters. The GAO report found because viewers couldn't tell the message came from the government, the video news releases violated restrictions against using federal funds for publicity or propaganda.
The videos look like news reports and end with the tagline, "In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting." A Spanish-language version ends with a similar sign-off from Alberto Garcia.
"The viewing audience does not know that Karen Ryan and Alberto Garcia were paid with HHS funds for their work," says Anthony Gamboa, general counsel for GAO, Congress' investigative arm.Second, in October: WASHINGTON Oct 11, 2004 -- The Bush administration has promoted its education law with a video that comes across as a news story but fails to make clear the reporter involved was paid with taxpayer money.
The government used a similar approach this year in promoting the new Medicare law and drew a rebuke from the investigative arm of Congress, which found the videos amounted to propaganda in violation of federal law.
The Education Department also has paid for rankings of newspaper coverage of the No Child Left Behind law, a centerpiece of the president's domestic agenda. Points are awarded for stories that say President Bush and the Republican Party are strong on education, among other factors.
The news ratings also rank individual reporters on how they cover the law, based on the points system set up by Ketchum, a public relations firm hired by the government.Next, last week: Shortly before last year's Super Bowl, local news stations across the country aired a story by Mike Morris describing plans for a new White House ad campaign on the dangers of drug abuse.
What viewers did not know was that Morris is not a journalist and his "report" was produced by the government, actions that constituted illegal "covert propaganda," according to an investigation by the Government Accountability Office.
In the second ruling of its kind, the investigative arm of Congress this week scolded the Bush administration for distributing phony prepackaged news reports that include a "suggested live intro" for anchors to read, interviews with Washington officials and a closing that mimics a typical broadcast news sign off.
Although television stations knew the materials were produced by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, there was nothing in the two-minute, prepackaged reports that would indicate to viewers that they came from the government or that Morris, a former journalist, was working under contract for the government.
"You think you are getting a news story, but what you are getting is a paid announcement," said Susan A. Poling, managing associate general counsel at the GAO. "What is objectionable about these is the fact the viewer has no idea their tax dollars are being used to write and produce this video segment."And, of course, Armstrong Williams: I asked if Williams had yet been conducted by the inspector general at the Education Department, the agency that had awarded the contract that supplied him $241,000 for promoting the NCLB measure within the African-American community. Representative George Miller, the ranking Democrat on the education committee, and other House Democrats had already called for an investigation. Why should the IG contact me? Williams replied, noting he had been merely a subcontractor. Any thorough investigation, I remarked, would include questioning the subcontractor. He scratched his head. "Funny," he said. "I thought this [contract] was a blessing at the time."
And then Williams violated a PR rule: he got off-point. "This happens all the time," he told me. "There are others." Really? I said. Other conservative commentators accept money from the Bush administration? I asked Williams for names. "I'm not going to defend myself that way," he said. The issue right now, he explained, was his own mistake. Well, I said, what if I call you up in a few weeks, after this blows over, and then ask you? No, he said.The Bush administration has been caught doing this four times in the last eight months. Further, one of the people implicated in the scandal claims that it happens "all the time." Still further, The Republican Noise Machine is well known to bankroll a legion of bought and paid for spokespeople to appear on television news and be quoted by journalists in an attempt to dominate the national political discourse. Considering all of this, I think it is fair to assume that the rabbit hole is very, very deep indeed. A reader of Josh Marhsall's asks: They sank a quarter of a million into one not so prominent commentator to push a single issue -- not even one where they really needed help -- and they never greased anyone else? Not so credible.Jeff Jarvis has filed a FOIA request on the matter: I just filed another Freedom of Information Act request, this one with the Department of Education seeking:
Records of any and all advertising and/or public-relations fees to promote No Child Left Behind or any other Department of Education program or agenda. This includes payments made through an agency or directly to any media organization -- including but not limited to newspapers, magazines, TV shows, radio shows, webloggers, commentators, or spokesmen. This should include any payments made in the last four years.
I plan to file the same request with other government agencies to see how they are using our tax dollars to promote their programs and agendas -- and whom they're trying to corrupt (or the already corrupted they're trying to use). If you have any suggestions -- particularly any promotions you've seen, since the more specific these requests are, the better -- then please leave them in the comments.No to propaganda in America. We should help Jarvis find as much as he can.