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Blink: The Economist

The Economist on the transparency (propaganda issue) – here’s a snippet from their "premium content" (read: log-on required).

The televised interview with John Walters, the White House drug tsar, ran on hundreds of local stations before the 2004 Super Bowl. “Many parents admit they’re still not taking the drug [marijuana] seriously,” explained the news anchor. “Mike Morris has more.” It ended with the usual sign-off: “This is Mike Morris reporting.” It looked like a news report, and quacked like a news report. But it was not one. The segment had been produced by Mr Walters’s Office of National Drug Control Policy. The apparently independent Mr Morris was on contract to the government.

Bogus television reporting like this is, alas, an established part of American “news management”. It is the video equivalent of issuing a press release. It will not disappear overnight. But at least you might have hoped, when government departments are caught doing it, they might feel a bit sheepish. When word of this particular episode leaked out last year, officials at the drug-control office promised not to do it again.

The General Accountability Office recently criticised the use of “prepackaged” news. The White House issued a response.
That was then. This week the White House spokesman said that, in promoting fake news, the administration was doing nothing wrong, and that the General Accounting Office (GAO), which had called it illegal “covert propaganda”, was talking through its hat.

While they make the point that Bush isn’t in the clear on this issue, they do point out where the media let us down:

Anyway, it is not the government’s fault if news programmes fail to identify a government agency as the originator of the material they are running. That is the broadcasters’ responsibility. And it is no excuse that they are short of cash and correspondents (though they are) and no excuse that government departments—as in the interview with Mr Walters—go out of their way to make the footage look like a ready-to-roll news report

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