Sunday, March 13, 2005

You Are Watching the Big Brother

David Barstow and Robin Stein of the New York Times document that "at least 20 federal agencies" have planted "hundreds of television news segments in the past four years," using a tactic typical of corporations (emphasis added, "Under Bush, a New Age of Prepackaged Television News," March 13, 2005). Here are a few examples:
"Thank you, Bush. Thank you, U.S.A.," a jubilant Iraqi-American told a camera crew in Kansas City for a segment about reaction to the fall of Baghdad. A second report told of "another success" in the Bush administration's "drive to strengthen aviation security"; the reporter called it "one of the most remarkable campaigns in aviation history." A third segment, broadcast in January, described the administration's determination to open markets for American farmers.

To a viewer, each report looked like any other 90-second segment on the local news. In fact, the federal government produced all three. The report from Kansas City was made by the State Department. The "reporter" covering airport safety was actually a public relations professional working under a false name for the Transportation Security Administration. The farming segment was done by the Agriculture Department's office of communications. (Barstow and Stein, March 13, 2005)

Ready-Made Reports
If you see any happy pro-Washington Afghans or Iraqis on television, chances are that they are brought to you by the "Good News" people of the Pentagon or the Department of State.

The Pentagon has at least three propaganda units: the Pentagon Channel; "a military-financed Web site,," from which TV stations request a free satellite feed of "news" produced by Army public affairs specialists; and the Army and Air Force Hometown News Service, which filed "50 stories" last year that were "broadcast 236 times in all, reaching 41 million households in the United States" (Barstow and Stein, March 13, 2005).

The State Department's Office of Broadcasting Services is slicker than its counterparts at the Pentagon. "The State Department typically distributes its segments via satellite to international news organizations like Reuters and Associated Press Television News, which in turn distribute them to the major United States networks, which then transmit them to local affiliates" (Barstow and Stein, March 13, 2005). That may be called "news laundering," not unlike money laundering.

Barstow and Stein say that the tactic, also used by the Bill Clinton administration, is profitable to all parties concerned: "Local affiliates are spared the expense of digging up original material. Public relations firms secure government contracts worth millions of dollars. The major networks, which help distribute the releases, collect fees from the government agencies that produce segments and the affiliates that show them. The administration, meanwhile, gets out an unfiltered message, delivered in the guise of traditional reporting" (March 13, 2005). Public relations firms involved in the business of corporate and government propaganda are thoroughly unashamed of the roles they play, and the corporate media are all complicit in it:
It is a sizable industry. One of its largest players, Medialink Worldwide Inc., has about 200 employees, with offices in New York and London. It produces and distributes about 1,000 video news releases a year, most commissioned by major corporations. The Public Relations Society of America even gives an award, the Bronze Anvil, for the year's best video news release.

Several major television networks play crucial intermediary roles in the business. Fox, for example, has an arrangement with Medialink to distribute video news releases to 130 affiliates through its video feed service, Fox News Edge. CNN distributes releases to 750 stations in the United States and Canada through a similar feed service, CNN Newsource. Associated Press Television News does the same thing worldwide with its Global Video Wire. (Barstow and Stein, March 13, 2005)
While the Government Accountability Office said that "federal agencies may not produce prepackaged news reports 'that conceal or do not clearly identify for the television viewing audience that the agency was the source of those materials,' . . . the Justice Department and the Office of Management and Budget circulated a memorandum instructing all executive branch agencies to ignore the G.A.O. findings" (Barstow and Stein, March 13, 2005). The Federal Communications Commission "has never disciplined a station for showing government-made news segments without disclosing their origin," even though it has enforcement powers to protect the rights of listeners and viewers "to know by whom they are being persuaded" (Barstow and Stein, March 13, 2005).

The marriage of government and propaganda has a long history, including in the United States (the Bush administration doesn't even neglect to propagandize by sponsoring Iraqi blogs), so Barstow and Stein's report wouldn't surprise any leftist. Nevertheless, you should encourage all to read the entire article and urge them to protest against the White House and agencies propagandizing the unsuspecting public. If this doesn't become a big scandal, that's a scandal in itself!

Postscript: David Barstow is one of the few reporters in the United States who have consistently served the public good rather than private benefits of the power elite. His three-part report (with Lowell Bergman) "Dangerous Business" (New York Times, January 8-10, 2003) on how companies sacrifice workers' safety for profits, unobstructed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is an exemplary work of investigative journalism.

1 comment:

martin said...

The fake news phenomenon is far bigger than this current White House abuse. I cover this issue in my consumer guide for the switched-on citizen: We Know What You Want ISBN: 1932857052
My book also uncovers unethical practices in data mining, viral marketing, supermarkets, governments and white collar cults.