Saturday, October 01, 2005

Media Manipulation: A Piece of Cake

I found myself chuckling at the NY Times article covering the Government Accountability Office report on this administration's use of propaganda tools to promote its agenda.

Federal auditors said on Friday that the Bush administration violated the law by buying favorable news coverage of President Bush's education policies, by making payments to the conservative commentator Armstrong Williams and by hiring a public relations company to analyze media perceptions of the Republican Party.

In a blistering report, the investigators, from the Government Accountability Office, said the administration had disseminated "covert propaganda" in the United States, in violation of a statutory ban.

The auditors declared: "We see no use for such information except for partisan political purposes. Engaging in a purely political activity such as this is not a proper use of appropriated funds."

The report also sharply criticized the Education Department for telling Ketchum Inc., a public relations company, to pay Mr. Williams for newspaper columns and television appearances praising Mr. Bush's education initiative, the No Child Left Behind Act.

...the accountability office said on Friday: "The failure of an agency to identify itself as the source of a prepackaged news story misleads the viewing public by encouraging the audience to believe that the broadcasting news organization developed the information. The prepackaged news stories are purposefully designed to be indistinguishable from news segments broadcast to the public. When the television viewing public does not know that the stories they watched on television news programs about the government were in fact prepared by the government, the stories are, in this sense, no longer purely factual. The essential fact of attribution is missing."
[Emphasis added]

The administration's use of propaganda had its own echo effect as the Governator of California then proceeded to use the same nifty scheme. Dan Gillmor blogged on this misuse of government power and funds on his blog earlier this year, citing a LA Times article (now available only by fee):

February 28, 2005
Taxpayer-Funded Propaganda from California Governor

LA Times (reg req): "News" Video Extols Gov.'s Plan. "Using taxpayer money, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration has sent television stations statewide a mock news story extolling a proposal that would benefit political boosters in the business community by ending mandatory lunch breaks for many hourly workers.

The tape looks like a news report and is narrated by a former television reporter who now works for the state. But unlike an actual news report, it does not provide views critical of the proposed changes. Democrats have denounced it as propaganda. Snippets aired on as many as 18 stations earlier this month, the administration said."

So it spreads. California's show-biz governor is mimicking the Bush adminisration's misuse of taxpayers' funds to pay for propaganda.

The irony of the reports from two of the nation's leading newspapers is that neither seem terribly concerned with the fact that media outlets themselves were complicit in spreading the propaganda. Few, if any, television stations airing the federal and state spots in any way noted the actual source for the 'stories.' No newspaper that I am aware of noted that Mr. Williams articles were prepared while he was on the government payroll until after the scandal broke.

No wonder neither side of the political spectrum has much respect for the so-called liberal media. No wonder the corporate giants are having problems selling their rags. No wonder the American public has become so cynical.



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