The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Monday, March 14, 2005
The Bush disinformation machine: not much arm-twisting required
In the war with the boastful bloggers, chalk one up to MSM: the New York Times makes some amends for its WMD follies by deploying some actual journalism on the growth industry that is the USG video news release (VNR).
When Karen Ryan's VNR performances for HHS came to light, much blogospherical bleating followed; some even blamed Karen Ryan.
Blissfully free of such onanistic frenzy is a 4,000 word piece today by David Barstow and Robin Stein (can't say I've heard of either) which provides some context and some examples: the essential 5W stuff.
For one thing, the answer to the cui bono? question is: everybody concerned (viewers naturally excepted!):
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.
And USG is fighting the GAO rulings against the use of the Karen Ryan-style VNRs :
...on Friday, 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. The memorandum said the G.A.O. failed to distinguish between covert propaganda and "purely informational" news segments made by the government. Such informational segments are legal, the memorandum said, whether or not an agency's role in producing them is disclosed to viewers.
We have examples of the way in which TV stations handled the material. For instance,
...in a recent segment produced by the Agriculture Department, the agency's narrator ended the report by saying "In Princess Anne, Maryland, I'm Pat O'Leary reporting for the U.S. Department of Agriculture." Yet AgDay, a syndicated farm news program that is shown on some 160 stations, simply introduced the segment as being by "AgDay's Pat O'Leary." The final sentence was then trimmed to "In Princess Anne, Maryland, I'm Pat O'Leary reporting."
News 10 Now, a cable station in Syracuse owned by Time Warnerwent even further with one of Karen Ryan's segments (see below): it
edited out the original narration and had one of its reporters repeat the script almost word for word.
Now, no doubt the USDA  is aware that its material will be falsified in this way; but the producers are primarily responsible. And others like the station news producers and anchors are higher up in the chain of responsibility than the USDA. (Unless all those TV people are minors - that would be totally different...)
Karen Ryan is interviewed for the piece ; apparently, she
cringes at the phrase "covert propaganda." These are words for dictators and spies, and yet they have attached themselves to her like a pair of handcuffs.
(A tad over-colourful, but the guys deserve slack.)
And says she got less than $5,000 for her HHS work.
The piece also raises the regulatory role of the FCC and points to - but doesn't reference, damn it! - a 2000 decision. This, I find is NORML Foundation (December 22 2000) . I doubt whether the decision covers the case of USG VNRs.
The piece also points to one structural factor favouring the use of VNRs:
WCIA is a small station with a big job in central Illinois.
That'll do it...
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