Bush administration propaganda efforts come under increased scrutiny
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Bush administration propaganda efforts come under increased scrutiny

Media Matters | January 24, 2005

The controversy over the Bush administration's use of secret government-funded propaganda to promote its policy positions raged on this week, amid new disclosures about payments to Armstrong Williams and for fake television "news reports."


Screened Audiences, Fake News Promote Bush Agenda

Williams has tried to justify his secret payments from the Bush administration by claiming that he merely took money to advocate policies he supported anyway. But Media Matters revealed this week that Williams's excuse, dubious even if true, is contradicted by his criticism of No Child Left Behind in 2001 -- more than two years before he took payments to promote it.

Also this week, a member of the Federal Communications Commission said the agency should investigate whether Williams broke the law by failing to disclose the $240,000 he took to promote Bush administration policy. And United States Senators Harry Reid (D-NV) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) wrote to President Bush urging Williams's removal from the President's Commission on White House Fellowships.

Meanwhile, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has filed a series of Freedom of Information Act requests (FOIAs) with 22 government agencies, seeking records of contracts with public relations firms, in an effort to determine whether there are additional examples of the Bush administration secretly financing covert propaganda:

CREW has now filed FOIAs with 22 agencies requesting copies of all contracts with public relation firms, including Ketchum and Fleishman-Hillard. Both firms have contracted with the government resulting in similar controversies, and in violation of the Publicity and Propaganda clause. The Williams case is the fourth that has become public. Previously, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) criticized the Department of Health and Human Services for having Ketchum create fake news footage in support of the new Medicare Bill. GAO is also investigating another contract between Ketchum and DOE and a contract between the Office of National Drug Control Policy and Fleischman-Hillard [sic].

"This type of covert propaganda, [sic] has no place in a healthy democracy," Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW said today. "It is particularly outrageous that the government continues to engage in this sort of illegal activity despite the fact that the GAO has said that it is illegal."

Sloan continued, "The question now is how extensively has the Administration used propaganda to shore up its controversial policies? Did it pay any commentators to speak out in support of the Patriot Act? Is it paying anyone now to convince the public that Social Security is in crisis? By filing these FOIAS, we hope to answer these questions."

More fake "news" from the Bush administration

Media Matters | January 7, 2005

This week brought two more examples of the Bush administration disguising paid propaganda as "news" in order to advance its agenda.

In May 2004, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) determined that the Bush administration violated federal law by releasing television "news segments" that favorably depicted a new Medicare law -- without indicating that the government created and paid for the segments. On January 6, the GAO announced that the Bush administration again broke the law by producing similar "news segments" about drug use, saying the segments "constitute covert propaganda" because they did not identify the government as the source of the materials. The GAO added that the administration "made it impossible for the targeted viewing audience to ascertain that these stories were produced by the government."

But that isn't the only new example of the Bush administration promoting its policies through the use of paid propaganda masquerading as news. USA Today reported January 7 that the administration paid television host, columnist, and commentator Armstrong Williams $240,000 to promote administration policy on his television show, and to encourage other African American journalists to do the same. According to USA Today , "The campaign, part of an effort to promote No Child Left Behind (NCLB), required commentator Armstrong Williams 'to regularly comment on NCLB during the course of his broadcasts,' and to interview Education Secretary Rod Paige for TV and radio spots that aired during the show in 2004."

According to USA Today , Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington noted that the payments to Williams may be illegal because of prohibitions on government propaganda.

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