More faux news

Two video "news" releases produced by Bush's Interior Department were posted on the Web today.

By Eric Boehlert
March 18, 2005 12:59AM (UTC)
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And the hits keep coming on the fake news front. Today, Friends of the Earth posted two Department of Interior-produced video news releases designed to look like objective newscasts. Both fail to inform viewers that they are government produced, instead opting for "reporters" who end the segments with "In Tampa, Pam Forrester reporting," and "This is Porter Versfelt reporting," respectively.

Critics call the prepackaged newscasts propaganda. And according to guidelines established by the Public Relations Society of America for video news releases, "Organizations that prepare VNRs should not use the word 'reporting' if the narrator is not a reporter." The Government Accountability Office came to the same conclusion in a ruling last year. But the Department of Justice last week overruled the GAO, informing federal agencies that they did not have to identify themselves in scripts for video news releases.

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On Sunday, the New York Times reported "at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government's role in their production."

The DOI's faux news segments were not mentioned specifically in the Times roundup of video news releases, and whether they were included in the total number is unclear. But the DOI reports do fit a pattern of VNRs that seem to go out of their way to camouflage their origin.

"The American people deserve to know when their tax dollars are being used to create government propaganda that they are unknowingly watching on TV," said Korey Hartwich, policy analyst at Friends of the Earth, in a statement posted on the group's Web site. "The GAO has already said that the government should not be producing this kind of propaganda. It's time for the Bush administration to put a stop to it, in every department of government."


Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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