Saturday, June 04, 2005

The Alternate Universe of Video News Release Producers

Maybe they just don't get it.

Video news release (VNR) producers, facing a potential crackdown on Bush administration propaganda, are looking for alternate ways to be "journalists." And you can't blame them, I suppose. If Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and John Kerry (D-MA) get their way, the Truth in Broadcasting Act will make their propaganda production jobs much more difficult.

During a roundtable discussion among VNR producers last month, Medialink's Larry Moskowitz suggested that what members of Congress "found venal" were VNR voice-overs -- the scripted audio mimicking reporters' narration. So Medialink -- missing the point of the legislation -- plans to advise the Bush administration to not use such voice-overs.

As reported by PR Week, the VNR producers opposed the idea of on-screen disclosure, as advocated by the recently proposed Lautenberg/Kerry legislation.

"It's meant to create a question that it's not reporting," PR Week quoted West Glen Communications' Stan Zeitlin. "It says that there's something phony about it, something that's not quite right."


At a recent Senate Commerce Committee hearing, officials with the Federal Communications Commission and the Government Accountability Office, as well as public relations executives, agreed the Bush administration was wrong to send out unidentified VNRs to local news stations.

The GAO, in advocating on-screen disclosure, said the problem with Bush administration VNRs -- produced by the roundtable attendees -- is that the "target audience -- the viewing public -- was unaware that the material was produced by the government. ... The story packages were clearly designed to be aired exactly as the agency produced them and were intended to resemble traditional news stories. They were narrated by government contract personnel who portrayed reporters and included suggested anchor lead-in scripts, announcing it as a news story by the purported reporter, which facilitated the unaltered use of the story package."


What the VNR producers don't understand is that they are not journalists. It's the same criticism legitimate journalists -- liberal or conservative -- should have of the Bush administration, which has defended the use of VNRs and other propaganda measures.

There is no way around the central problem. When the government hires reporters -- or actors or public relations staff to portray reporters -- then sends that material out to television and radio news stations without disclosure, that's not legitimate journalism. That's state-sponsored journalism, no better or worse than what one would expect from a dictatorship.

Legitimate journalists know this, and that's why they are collectively up in arms over the use of VNRs and other propaganda.


Some of the government criticism may be sinking in. Or is it?

For example, at least one VNR producer quoted by PR Week advocated ending all-out lying in the productions.

Alan Weiss Productions' Alan Weiss said "another production company" had used actors for supposedly unsolicited "people on the street" interviews. Weiss said that such "slanted" VNRs didn't serve the industry well.

But then Weiss said something that shows how great the divide is between VNR producers and legitimate journalists.

"What's neat about our country is that there's no censorship," PR Week quoted Weiss. "We are journalists if we're supplying videos to a journalistic organization."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

simplest thing is to have each ad just indicate it is backed by the government. end of story. i do not see why their is opposition to that.

5:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is what hte legistlation wants, too. The VNR producers are against it. The Bush administration andthe GOP haven't stated an official opinion on it.

6:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see that the loony left is now in the business of getting to define what they consider to be journalism, and that definition only includes those that they agree with. I disagree wholeheartedly with the VNR's, but lack the righteous indignation of the left. Apparently, since their guy did it on a smaller scale, it makes it wrong for others to follow in their footsteps. All of this Bush bad, Democrats good stuff gets old. If it is wrong for one to do it, it is wrong for all. Argue that, and more people will agree with you. However, disqualifying others from your definition of journalism smacks of elitism and partisanship.

7:51 AM  
Anonymous rob of wilmington, del. said...

The Clinton administration, as pointed out on JABBS, has never been accused by the right nor by the GAO for failing to identify its VNRs as government-produced. That's why no one is focusing on the Clinton administration's use of VNRs -- they did nothing wrong.

That point seems to be lost on the above commenter.

The point is, VNRs are not journalism. Not when they are produced by the government. Not when they are produced by corporate America. You want to call them public relations, fine. But they are not, and never will be, journalism.

What's worse, when the Bush administration fails to properly identify such VNRs as government-produced, that's wrong. When the Bush administration allows actors or public relations staff to pose as journalists for its VNRs, or to pose as ordinary Americans asking questions in a man-on-the-street format, that's lying.

How can you not understand that?

11:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So all advertising is lying ? Cialis really doesn't help people? Not everybody loves a Carl's Jr. hamburger? Spare me the righteous indignation.

11:26 AM  
Anonymous rob of wilmington, del. said...

You are mixing apples and oranges. Nice try.

Carl's Jr. is clearly an advertisement. An unidentified VNR advocating No Child Left Behind, run on the local evening news as NEWS is not clearly an advertisement. That's why the Government Accountability Office -- a non-partisan office of our U.S. government -- and the Federal Communications Commission have said the Bush administration's use of VNRs amounts to a violation of our laws on propaganda.

Are you accusing the GAO and the FCC of being partisan liberal institutions?

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The VNRs opposition will fail and this legislation will go through. End of story.

Wait, are you telling me that if i eat the Carl JR burger, i wont have Paris Hilton climbing all over me? Dont tell me that.

4:13 PM  
Anonymous rob of wilmington, del. said...

Again, you are mixing apples and oranges. Maybe you are just dumb.

Carl's Jr. is clearly an advertisement. No one watching television would ever think that a 30-second spot during Desperate Housewives was a breaking news story.

A VNR doesn't work that way. If Carl's Jr. was using a VNR, it would hire one of these PR firms to create a fake two-minute "news story" saying, for example, that eating beef is healthy, even if it's fast food. Then it would have a Carl's Jr. executive talking about the nutritional benefits of a Carl's Jr. hamburger, and then the fake reporter would send it back to the studio -- without the viewers realizing that the "reporter" was actually a paid industry flak.

See the difference?

5:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

but then there would be no paris fantasy.....

9:35 PM  
Blogger Nicole Swann said...

Why does the Bush administration receive all the criticism about VNRs? There wouldn't be a market for them if television stations refused to air them. It takes two to tango.

10:06 PM  
Anonymous rob of wilmington, del. said...

Kelly K -- according to the GAO, the Bush administration was guilty of sending out VNRs that were not identified as government-produced.

Local television stations often accept freelance material, to make up for a lack of local original programming for their nightly news broadcasts.

Station producers have told the GAO that they were unaware that they were receiving government-produced VNRs, mistakenly assuming that the "journalists" narrating the VNRs were actual journalists, not p.r. flaks paid by the government. Even public relations executives, interviewed by the Senate, agree that this practice is wrong.

President Bush has had three opinions on VNRs, the most recent of which was that the station producers are responsible for identifying a VNR as government produced. But this is just passing the buck.

The Lautenberg/Kerry legislation mandates that VNRs be properly identified as government-produced, making the government responsible for any propaganda it produces.

10:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Bush administration has been criticized because it failed to identify VNRs as government produced. The GAO found that the Clinton administration, by contrast, did not make this mistake.

The question is, do you want the government to produce propaganda, then not identify it, and have it be a part of your local news? Do you want to watch government propaganda, not realizing that you are watching government propaganda?

For some reason, conservatives think that they are acting conservative by supporting Bush on this one. That's ass-backwards. What part of conservatism includes unidentified government propaganda?

10:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has anybody on here seen any of these VNR's ? If you did, would it change your mind?

1:51 AM  
Anonymous rob of wilmington, del. said...

I haven't watched a VNR, but I have read a transcript (you can, too, if you read the GAO report from a few months ago on the subject).

It is what it is. It sounds like an infomercial -- very positive and pro-government. There is no indication that it's government produced, and in fact the "reporter" sign-off in one case was "This is Karen Ryan, reporting." Karen Ryan, it was subsequently learned, is a successful public relations executive whose company produces these things. She's not a reporter.

I haven't seen the one referred to by JABBS, with actors posing as average citizens for "man-on-the-street" interviews.

The whole thing sort of stinks, though. Why shouldn't the Bush Administration identify itself as the producer of a VNR? If Clinton did it, shouldn't Bush do it, too? Why the deception?

10:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has anybody ever seen one of these VNR's ? Where were they aired ? When ? By whom ?

12:56 PM  
Anonymous rob of wilmington, del. said...

According to the GAO report, one of the Bush VNRs aired on about 40 local news broadcasts around the country, predominantly in smaller TV markets in the South and West.

I don't think the GAO report actually broke out what station in what market on what day.

1:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

if you live in the coastal markets you wont see pro republican slants so much because they know how democratic places such as ny or CA are.

isnt the point anyway. this has nothing to do with clinton or bush or carter or nixon. it has to do with government period. nothing should be produced by the government advocating or slanting a position without identifying it as produced by the government. why should the tv stations have to do this. ridiculous debate.....obviously easy to do but the VNR groups dont want to because they will lose clout. about money.

truthfully noone will really read the fine print but in the interest of full disclosure it should be a new rule, as bill maher would say.

5:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anybody know where one could find information about how many have been aired, when, by whom, viewership, etc ... ?

I am a resident supporter of BushCo McHitler, but this process bothers me. I am just curious as to the extent of the distribution of these VNR's.

12:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that question has been answered.

2:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The fact is that not one of you have seen one, and maybe a tiny tiny tiny portion of America has actually seen them. You have managed to create a mountain out of a grain of sand here, a venerable strawman to beat up, along with Gannon, whenever you feel like it. Congrats.

8:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're being ridiculous.

I haven't seen one, but I've read the transcript, and I know that the nonpartisan GAO is calling this propaganda.

How many people have seen them? Multiply 40 nightly news broadcast times a typical viewing audience in those markets. Given the mix of small and mid-sized markets, a conservative number of viewers would be 50,000 per broadcast. So that's 2 million people.

But let's get back to the point of this. The GAO says it's propaganda, and Bush has since January said propaganda was wrong, said propaganda was ok, and said that it's the local television producers' responsibility to identify the VNRs as propaganda. Is that leadership?

And again, we're talking about government propaganda, unidentified and distributed to local news producers as if it came from freelancers. The VNRs, according to the non-partisan GAO, use actors or public relations staff posing as journalists, and in some cases, posing as interviewees for man-on-the-street interviews.

This is what you want to defend? Government propaganda that is sent to television stations under false pretenses? Exactly where does that fit into your definition of a free press? Where does that fit into your definition of democracy?

I said it before, and I'll say it again: When the Soviets did this, American presidents -- Democrats and Republicans -- railed against it. The U.S. continues to fight state-sponsored propaganda in China, North Korea and Cuba.

But you want to say it's ok because it's coming from the Bush administration?

That's not only hypocritical, it's stupid. I don't like being lied to by my government, and you shouldn't, either.

8:41 PM  
Anonymous rob of wilmington, del. said...

One more thing: Anyone who thinks that the Jeff Gannon controversy is meaningless either refuses to look at the facts, or doesn't fear state-sponsored journalism.

8:42 PM  

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