All the Fake News That's Fit To Air…

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Via Freedom's Phoenix comes this U.K. Independent account of just how much ersatz news the Bush administration has been pushing (and TV stations have been airing) in these United States:

Federal authorities are actively investigating dozens of American television stations for broadcasting items produced by the Bush administration and major corporations, and passing them off as normal news. Some of the fake news segments talked up success in the war in Iraq, or promoted the companies' products.

Investigators from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are seeking information about stations across the country after a report produced by a campaign group detailed the extraordinary extent of the use of such items.

The report, by the non-profit group Centre for Media and Democracy, found that over a 10-month period at least 77 television stations were making use of the faux news broadcasts, known as Video News Releases (VNRs). Not one told viewers who had produced the items.

Just think: If those VNRs had only included nipples or cuss words, the FCC would have been all over this years ago. Whole thing here.

Full disclosure: The Bush administration sent me this item.

More good old fashioned fake news bits here and here.

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  1. It’s annoying that they conflate corporate infomercials with government stuff – how many broadcasts are at issue? How many were corporate and how many were governmental? Did money change hands or was it just laziness on the part of the TV stations?

  2. Being able to critically consume a news piece depends on knowing whence it comes, so even infomercials deserve opprobrium. It doesn’t have the abuse-of-power angle, but it should be a stain on the news station’s reputation.

    That being said, many legitimate stories are essentially lifted from press releases, complete with “confirming sources,” so I think a lot of the usual fulminators may stay quiet.

  3. Being able to critically consume a news piece depends on knowing whence it comes..

    I agree. For me, though, simply knowing a news piece is broadcast by an organization that calls itself a professional news outlet is enough to turn on the skepticism gene.

  4. “All of the companies said they included full disclosure of their involvement in the VNRs. “We in no way attempt to hide that we are providing the video,” said Chuck Mulloy, a spokesman for Intel. “In fact, we bend over backward to make this disclosure.””

    So, are we to assume that the producers of these VNR’s can’t be bothered to actually see their work on the tube? Or are we to assume that they do see the TV product in action, of course, but can’t be bothered to make sure that the disclosure is continued once the product hits the air? Hmmm…

    “”Essentially it’s corporate advertising or propaganda masquerading as news,” he said. “The public obviously expects their news reports are going to be based on real reporting and real information. If they are watching an advertisement for a company or a government policy, they need to be told.””

    So, Mr. Mulloy, wouldn’t you agree with that? No? Hmmm…

    “Some of the fake news segments talked up success in the war in Iraq, or promoted the companies’ products.”

    “Among items provided by the Bush administration to news stations was one in which an Iraqi-American in Kansas City was seen saying “Thank you Bush. Thank you USA” in response to the 2003 fall of Baghdad. The footage was actually produced by the State Department,…”

    It just goes to show, you can spin reality all you want, be positive, keep your eyes on the prize and all that, but when you are doing something doomed to failure, all the VNR’s in the world won’t change the outcome in the end.

    This also goes to show that our schools need to get up to speed on media literacy and civics. Our kids need the intellectual tools to see through this crappola.

    JMJ

  5. Too many issues are being conflated here. Corporation produced footage doesn’t raise the same ethical or political issues raised by government produced footage even if, in fact, the corporations are not clearly identifying themselves in the film.

    The onus rests on the news departments of those stations deciding to air the film to determine whether it is newsworthy (as opposed to merely cheap filler), whether whatever claims it might make can be and are independently verified and whether failing to identify the source of the film perpetrates some sort of fraud on the viewer. If the worst thing that can be said about a piece on Halloween Trick or Treating kids is product placement of Mars candy, I fail to see what serious concern this should be of the FCC. (Please spare me the retort that this is a per se deceptive practice.)

    Government production of such film raises far more important issues, though even then it seems silly to lump all such efforts together as though all those issues were always present. However, it should be noted that there are laws against the use of federal funds for what amounts to propaganda or even mere puffery. I’m not sure whether the FCC is the appropriate agency to monitor such practices, but they certainly need to be monitored.

  6. It’s annoying that they conflate corporate infomercials with government stuff

    Not if the corporate stuff is masquerading as “news”. It’s hard to tell from the article, but it doesn’t sound like they’re talking about infomercials here.

  7. I’m disappointed that neither of those links to old Reason pieces go to the crop of stories you ran last fall about the US government planting fake stories in the Iraqi press.

    I recall the argument of the administration defenders was that such propaganda efforts were perfectly appropriate in a war zone, and, like the wiretapping scandals, it’s ok because it was only happening overseas.

  8. Video News Releases are exactly the same as press releases. So if you get upset that a TV station runs something as their own, newspapers do the same with press releases. It’s basically an unwritten rule that if your organization sends out a press release, a news organization can use it — word for word if they choose — as their own. In fact, you could argue that press releases used verbatim are more deceptive since the quotes are usually never spoken or written by the person. At least in a video news release, you see the person speaking — even if it was culled from 30 takes.

  9. News media retype press releases all the time, I’m not shocked that they also re-cut VNRs and put them on air. That hardly warrants investigation.

    It raises a bigger concern with government, but I think the real issue is that so many reporters are just damn lazy.

  10. However, it should be noted that there are laws against the use of federal funds for what amounts to propaganda or even mere puffery

    That’s the second time I’ve seen someone write this. If what you say is true, how are the Just Say No type of anti-drug ads and signs the DC rapid transit is forced to carry legal?

  11. Did they count NPR?

  12. Tune in to Fox News and you can watch it 24 hours a day.

  13. The Owner’s Manual:

    Because that particular sort of propaganda has been authorized by Congress.

  14. Well, the anchor tag didn’t work. See: http://www.gao.gov/decisions/appro/303495.htm

  15. Video News Releases are exactly the same as press releases. So if you get upset that a TV station runs something as their own, newspapers do the same with press releases.

    I agree with this, though the real lazy journalist’s rule is that you’re supposed to make at least one phone call to supplement the press releast.

  16. How is this any different from newspapers reprinting press releases, again?

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