Reporting for Big Brother

Monday, March 14th, 2005 @ 6:16 pm | Current Events

This past weekend, the NYT revealed that many federal agencies in the Bush administration regularly produce “informational” PR segments that are often broadcast — in whole or in part — on local and national news programs as hard news. While some segments serve as simply video press releases, others put a glossy spin on controversial programs and proposals, such as Bush’s Social Security plan.

These segments are broadcast without revealing that the government is the source of the report. Through clever editing, news programs often play the hired PR “reporter” off as one of their own. Responses are scripted, and there is no room for dissenting viewpoints. These prepackaged news segments are a longstanding practice in the PR industry, and are a common souce of “b-roll” material that is used for video in news reports.

The federal government is not the only one engaged in this practice. Congressional Democrats in California have recently criticized Gov. Schwarzenegger for doing the same thing for his controversial policies. While the practice was used during the Clinton administration as well, the Bush administration has been making much more use of it: The PR budget during Bush’s first term was nearly double what was spent for PR during Clinton’s second term.

All of this comes on the heels of revelations that the Bush administration paid several syndicated columnists to shill for Bush administration policies on TV talk shows and in print. And let’s not forget “Jeff Gannon,” the reporter for a partisan GOP news website, with no journalistic credentials, who had daily access to the White House for two years.

Is there a trend appearing here? It appears that the Bush administration has been engaging in a concerted effort to produce news coverage that is favorable towards their policies. When the government has to resort to corporate PR methods to gather support for their policies, there is something fishy indeed.

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