More Paid Propagandists? When Will The Bush Administration Learn?
At least 10 Florida journalists received regular payments from a U.S. government program aimed at undermining the Cuban government of Fidel Castro, the Miami Herald is reporting.
It's hardly a surprise.
The Bush Administration has been caught on several occasions paying journalists to tout government programs, or to support its views on issues. The decision to pay shills to plant stories in the media shows a disdain for real journalists not seen in previous administrations.
It also shows a lack of trust of the American people. The administration shouldn't have to trick Americans to gain their support.
But trick them it does. It has paid columnists and pundits to tout its programs, released multiple undocumented video news releases (complete with public relations staff posing as reporters and/or "man on the street" interviewees), and asked public relations staffers to ghostwrite articles for scholarly journals.
In the latest example to be uncovered, The Herald said two of the journalists receiving the payments worked for its Spanish-language sister publication, El Nuevo Herald, and a third was a freelance contributor for that newspaper, which fired all three after learning of the payments. The other seven journalists worked for Spanish-language television and radio stations and newspapers in the Miami area.
The merits of what the administration is advocating aren't at issue. Most Americans want to see an end to Castro's regime, and certainly a large percentage of Americans at one supported Bush's "No Child Left Behind" program -- long before the administration hired a public relations firm, Ketchum Inc., which in turn subcontracted conservative pundit Armstrong Williams so that he would tout the program.
What is at issue is the administration's decision, again and again, to turn to propaganda -- the sort of decision that Americans of all political stripes have criticized in places like North Korea, China and the former Soviet Union.
The non-partisan Government Accountability Office last year found that what the Bush Administration has done constituted "covert propaganda," and was in violation of "governmentwide" anti-propaganda rules.
Over the course of 2005, President Bush offered three opinions on his administration's use of propaganda.
Follow the bouncing ball:
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.
In April, Bush said:
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."
In other words, don't blame the Bush administration for failing to clearly label its propaganda. It's not the administration's fault, and it isn't taking responsibility for confusion.
The fact that the payments to Miami journalists is only now being found out -- the program began in 2001 -- shows the administration didn't change its ways after being embarrassed multiple times in 2004 and 2005.
"Yes, it's deceptive to the American people if it's not disclosed," Bush said last April. But the administration didn't change its ways.
That should say a lot about how this administration works.