Friday, April 22, 2005

Bush Changes Mind, Again, On Use Of Propaganda

During a Q&A session following an April 14 speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, President Bush offered his third opinion on his administration's use of propaganda.

You may recall that in January, the administration was on the defensive. Word had leaked that it had paid conservative "journalists" to advocate its policies. Media critics questioned its favoritism toward a Texas GOP operative, Jeff Gannon (aka J.D. Guckert), who had been posing as journalist at press conferences. And it had been harshly criticized by the GAO and others for sending "video news releases" to local television stations, which featured fake reporters and were not clearly identified as government-produced.

BUSH STATEMENT #!: "There needs to be a nice independent relationship between the White House and the press, the administration and the press," Bush said during a January press conference. "Our agenda ought to be able to stand on its own two feet."

Fair enough. But before long, Bush had changed his mind. In March -- backed by an "ok" from his legal team -- we received:

BUSH STATEMENT #2: "There is a Justice Department opinion that says these pieces are OK so long as they're based upon facts, not advocacy. And I expect our agencies to adhere to that ruling."

Amazingly, Bush was suggesting that propaganda created by the government was not "advocacy" -- as if his administration would pay a journalist or create a video news release to oppose the administration. Americans haven't seen the English language so tortured since President Clinton sought a definition of the word "is."

Which brings us to his April 14 comments, and:

BUSH STATEMENT #3: "Yes, it's deceptive to the American people if it's not disclosed. And I -- first of all, in reviewing this issue have been told this has gone on for quite a while. It makes -- that doesn't excuse the behavior here, but nevertheless it has been, in that it's a legal -- it's legal for -- to use these video news clips. But it's incumbent upon people who use them to say, this news clip was produced by the federal government. Armstrong Williams -- it was wrong what happened there in the Education Department. But, no, I think there needs to be full disclosure about the sourcing of the video news clip in order to make sure that people don't think their taxpayer's money is being used to -- in wrong fashion."

Two points:

-- While the video news releases (VNR) dates back to the Reagan Administration, they have never been used on the scale of the Bush administration. From 2001 to 2004, the Bush administration spent $250 million on VNRs, compared with the $128 million the Clinton administration spent from 2001 to 2004. But, a 2004 GAO report, while criticizing the Bush (and Reagan) administrations for failing to identify its VNRs as government-produced, it did not offer a similar criticism of the Clinton administration's VNRs.

For example, a separate GAO report on deceptive mail (fake sweepstakes, chain letters, etc.) noted a 1994 Federal Trade Commision VNR sent to news stations regarding "how consumers could identify whether elderly relatives were having problems in handling mailed material from organizations." There is no suggestion the VNR was not clearly labeled as produced by the Clinton administration. Another GAO report cites a 1993 VNR on the need for adult immunization, part of a broader public relations strategy coordinated by the Department of Health and Human Services. Again, there is no suggestion the VNR was not clearly identified as government-produced.

-- Let me highlight a point Bush made twice in his comments:

1) But it's incumbent upon people who use them to say, this news clip was produced by the federal government.

2) I think there needs to be full disclosure about the sourcing of the video news clip in order to make sure that people don't think their taxpayer's money is being used to -- in wrong fashion."

In other words, don't blame the Bush administration for failing to clearly label its propaganda. It's not their fault. They aren't taking any responsibility for confusion.

No, the Bush administration wants the media critics and the GAO to blame local television station producers if they fail to disclose that they use government-produced propaganda.

What does Bush really think about propaganda? Who knows. But as this story continues to percolate -- there's a congressional investigation under way regarding the payments to conservative "journalists" -- don't be surprised if the conservative punditry follows Bush's lead.

Because if you're looking for a way to spin this mess, clearly it's easier to blame anonymous television news producers than to blame Bush.

4 Comments:

Blogger Rob said...

Frankly, he has no qualms about lying to the people 24/7. His bullshit about Social Security is the latest installment of that, now topped off with the heavy cream of TERRORISM. Why should he have reservations about lying the rest of the time?

2:34 AM  
Blogger Rob said...

Oh, and thanks for linking to the Luntz bit. That SOB deserves it.

2:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is it not surprising to see that Bush is passing the blame to others?

10:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This Bush administration's greatest weakness is a failure to take accountability for anything. Instead, the idea is to blame someone else, whether it's the CIA or television news stations, and to have the argument reiterated enough by the conservative press whores so that such a smoke screen is created most cannot discern the truth about anything.
Such is the current power in control of the country.

2:49 PM  

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