Lies, Propaganda, and Medicare

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First came word that the White House had threatened to fire an official if he spoke his mind about the cost of the new Medicare bill. Now there's this story:

It was with great fanfare that the Bush administration unveiled 30-second television commercials and a two-page flier that would be mailed to 41 million seniors and disabled people, touting the newly enacted Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Missing from the publicity was any mention of "video news releases," which feature "interviews" with government officials and voice-overs by production company employees posing as Washington reporters, for use in local TV news shows.

On Monday, less than a week after it concluded that the administration's Medicare commercials and fliers were technically legal but contained "notable omissions and errors," the General Accounting Office said it would conduct another investigation to determine whether the video news releases constituted illegal "covert propaganda."

A government spokesman informs the Los Angeles Times that such releases are "extraordinarily common," and that the Clinton administration put out 26 of them. I guess that means it's OK.

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  1. Clinton did it, so it’s OK? Is that Bush’s defense on the military service and drug issues, as well? I guess the blowjob scandal isn’t far off.

  2. Kevin-

    Not only is it Bush’s defense for himself, it’s the right’s indictment of the media: Unless they gave Clinton the exact same treatment in every regard, they have no right to give Bush a hard time.

    Never mind that the media, at the urging of the right, was so busy investigating Clinton’s sex life that they had no time to investigate official dishonesty, abuse of power, deception of the American people, etc.

  3. The local Soviet, er County is resisting state budget cuts, and my mailbox is stuffed with “informational” fliers on various County services. It’s just junk mail so far as I’m concerned, and I seldom look at it. I assume this sort of thing is budgeted (some of those tax dollars NOT being spent on teachers and cops).

    I am told the largest lobbyist in Washington, DC (money-wise) are state and local governments collectively…all of them using funds taken from tax-payers in their jurisdictions. Always a good story, I suppose…and suspiciously “timely” in an election year.

    The White House spends money touting their legislative “achievements”…hell, if Ron Paul was President he might do as much.

  4. “illegal “covert propaganda.”
    That would be as opposed to the, legal “blatant propaganda”.

  5. This is the ultimate non-scandal. It’s a Claude Raines moment for the news media. All video news releases are shot to look like tv news stories. Everybody uses them, government and private sector alike.

    For senior reporters at big newspapers and editorial writers at the same to claim to be ignorant of that fact is disengenous at best.

    Sean Dougherty
    SeanDD@optonline.net

  6. True, Sean, but the point is that the PUBLIC has not been made pointedly aware of the ubiquity of video news releases until now. There are two things going on here: Bush partisans using VNRs, and those opposed to the administration choosing this particular time and incident to “out” the fact that they are in common usage. “Verrrrrrrrrry interesting, as Artie Johnson used to say.

  7. This is the ultimate non-scandal. It’s a Claude Raines moment for the news media. All video news releases are shot to look like tv news stories. Everybody uses them, government and private sector alike.

    And that means it’s not a scandal?

    It’s true that the most scandalous behavior here is that of the news shows that use such releases. I’m sure there’s plenty of them; I’ve known that since I was a 20-year-old intern pumping out press releases for a hospital and seeing them printed virtually verbatim in the local paper. But it’s still disgusting.

    But that doesn’t let the Bush administration off the hook, especially if the claim pans out that the releases included errors and omissions meant to inflate the reputation of the program.

  8. Jesse,

    I think the public is pretty much aware that, historically, newspapers have used releases as filler, particularly on “slow news days,” but the fact that this happens in electronic media is a revelation to most of us. I think the thing here is that consumers are going to see this as just another way they are being duped and manipulated. It will be interesting how this plays out politically.

  9. You have to be pretty naive to
    think these “news” releases are real.

    The American voter is too sophisticated to fall for that.

    Right?

  10. As much as I don’t care for VNR’s, it’s hard to find fault with those that create them. After all, these videos are sent to the news media, whose duty it is to fact-check, edit, and balance those sources to tell the whole story.

    That VNRs are ubiquitous and rarely edited of course doesn’t give credibility to the accuracy of VNRs. Instead it reveals the laziness of professional journalists and the unwavering focus on the bottom line of their business managers.

  11. Unless they gave Clinton the exact same treatment in every regard, they have no right to give Bush a hard time.

    And this position is unfair or unreasonable how, exactly?

    Is it just me, or is “covert propaganda” a non sequitur, if not a full blown oxymoron?

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