Too Little, Too Late Redux
- 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
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
, the Times has acknowledged ruefully that "the nation's news
organizations have played a large and unappetizing role in deceiving
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.
 See, for example, the following:
The Triumph of Form over Content
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