March 14, 2005

Deep in the back of my mind is an unrealized sound

* Propaganda advertisements: NYT's reports that under Bush "the federal government has aggressively used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged, ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies to auto insurance."

"It is the kind of TV news coverage every president covets.

"'Thank you, Bush. Thank you, U.S.A.,' a jubilant Iraqi-American told a camera crew in Kansas City for a segment about reaction to the fall of Baghdad. A second report told of 'another success' in the Bush administration's 'drive to strengthen aviation security;' the reporter called it 'one of the most remarkable campaigns in aviation history.' A third segment, broadcast in January, described the administration's determination to open markets for American farmers.

"To a viewer, each report looked like any other 90-second segment on the local news. In fact, the federal government produced all three. The report from Kansas City was made by the State Department. The 'reporter' covering airport safety was actually a public relations professional working under a false name for the Transportation Security Administration. The farming segment was done by the Agriculture Department's office of communications."
...
"In three separate opinions in the past year, the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress that studies the federal government and its expenditures, has held that government-made news segments may constitute improper 'covert propaganda' even if their origin is made clear to the television stations. The point, the office said, is whether viewers know the origin. Last month, in its most recent finding, the G.A.O. said federal agencies may not produce prepackaged news reports 'that conceal or do not clearly identify for the television viewing audience that the agency was the source of those materials.'"
...
"On Sept. 11, 2002, WHBQ, the Fox affiliate in Memphis, marked the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks with an uplifting report on how assistance from the United States was helping to liberate the women of Afghanistan.

"Tish Clark, a reporter for WHBQ, described how Afghan women, once barred from schools and jobs, were at last emerging from their burkas, taking up jobs as seamstresses and bakers, sending daughters off to new schools, receiving decent medical care for the first time and even participating in a fledgling democracy. Her segment included an interview with an Afghan teacher who recounted how the Taliban only allowed boys to attend school. An Afghan doctor described how the Taliban refused to let male physicians treat women.

"In short, Ms. Clark's report seemed to corroborate, however modestly, a central argument of the Bush foreign policy, that forceful American intervention abroad was spreading freedom, improving lives and winning friends.

"What the people of Memphis were not told, though, was that the interviews used by WHBQ were actually conducted by State Department contractors. The contractors also selected the quotes used from those interviews and shot the video that went with the narration. They also wrote the narration, much of which Ms. Clark repeated with only minor changes.

"As it happens, the viewers of WHBQ were not the only ones in the dark.

"Ms. Clark, now Tish Clark Dunning, said in an interview that she, too, had no idea the report originated at the State Department. 'If that's true, I'm very shocked that anyone would false report on anything like that,' she said."

* Up for grabs: the Pete Townsend potato.

* G.W. Bush: photoshopped or not?

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