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Too Little, Too Late Redux

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  • Ryan McGreal
    Hi All, A few years ago, on either this list or the NOLOGO list that preceded it, someone posted an article from a former Soviet journalist who argued that the
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 16, 2005
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      Hi All,

      A few years ago, on either this list or the NOLOGO list that preceded
      it, someone posted an article from a former Soviet journalist who
      argued that the major difference between Soviet propaganda and American
      propaganda was the sophistication in America compared to the clumsy,
      heavyhanded Pravda version.

      Just about everyone who followed the media coverage of the Iraq war
      from the first rumblings in 2002 noticed that:

      a) the government relied very heavily on propaganda to frame the debate
      in its terms, and

      b) the mainstream media almost completely failed to distinguish between
      the facts of the matter, which were evident from the start, and the
      government's spin.

      Even so-called "liberal" papers like the New York Times blithely
      reproduced the slipperiest government claims on front page articles
      without bothering to investigate whether those claims were

      I've mentioned my frustration with this on an occasion or two, and I
      won't exhaust you here with a rehash of my concerns.

      Instead, I'll let the editors at the New York Times do it. Just like
      the assorted "media culpa" editorials last year over prewar coverage
      [1], the Times has acknowledged ruefully that "the nation's news
      organizations have played a large and unappetizing role in deceiving
      the public."

      If I believed for a moment that this acknowledgement would lead to more
      vigorous and skeptical coverage in the future, then I would cheer this

      Unfortunately, it's just another well-worn performance of the media's
      standard hairshirt mode when it gets caught with its pants down:
      apologize for the deceit (once it's too late to make a differene),
      promise to hold hearings, 'improve transparency', and install ethics
      advisors and ombudsmen, and then abandon all of that the next time they
      are asked to fall in line and 'get behind' the government.




      EDITORIAL: And Now, the Counterfeit News
      Published: March 16, 2005

      The Bush administration has come under a lot of criticism for its
      attempts to fob off government propaganda as genuine news reports.
      Whether federal agencies are purchasing the services of supposedly
      independent columnists or making videos extolling White House
      initiatives and then disguising them as TV news reports, that's wrong.
      But it is time to acknowledge that the nation's news organizations have
      played a large and unappetizing role in deceiving the public.

      As documented this week in an article in The Times by David Barstow and
      Robin Stein, more than 20 federal agencies, including the State
      Department and the Defense Department, now create fake news clips. The
      Bush administration spent $254 million in its first four years on
      contracts with public relations firms, more than double the amount
      spent by the Clinton administration.

      Most of these tapes are very skillfully done, including "interviews"
      that seem genuine and "reporters" who look much like the real thing.
      Only sophisticated viewers would easily recognize that these videos are
      actually unpaid commercial announcements for the White House or some
      other part of the government. Some of the videos clearly cross the line
      into the proscribed territory of propaganda, and the Government
      Accountability Office says at least two were illegally distributed.

      But too many television stations run government videos anyway, without
      any hint of where they came from. And while some claim they somehow
      stumbled accidentally into this trap, it seems obvious that in most
      cases, television stations that are short on reporters, long on air
      time to fill and unwilling to spend the money needed for real news
      gathering are abdicating their editorial responsibilities to the
      government's publicity teams. Bush administration officials now insist
      that they carefully label any domestic releases as government handouts.

      However disingenuous those assurances may be, in at least some cases
      the stations are the main culprits in the deception - as at the Fox
      affiliate in Memphis, where a station reporter narrated a State
      Department video, using the text that came with it. The Times also
      reported on a small central Illinois station that was so eager to snap
      up this low-cost filler that it asked the Agriculture Department to
      have its "reporter" refer to its morning show in his closing lines. The
      Times tracked station malpractice into bigger markets, like San Diego
      (the ABC affiliate) and Louisville, Ky. (the Fox affiliate).

      If using pretend news is one of the ways these stations have chosen to
      save money, it's a false economy. If it represents a political decision
      to support President Bush, it will eventually backfire. This kind of
      practice cheapens the real commodity that television stations have to
      sell during their news hours: their credibility.


      [1] See, for example, the following:

      The Triumph of Form over Content

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