News videos are propaganda

Jay Lively

In what is becoming a pattern of deceit, the Bush administration has insulted the nation’s intelligence by pawning off a Medicare propaganda advertisement as real news.

In March, the Department of Health and Human Resources released “video news releases” to 50 stations in 40 states touting the successes of the new Medicare bill signed into law on Dec. 8, 2003. The videos were constructed to look like legitimate news footage and shown during newscasts.

On March 14, a New York Times article by Robert Pear demonstrated this lack of ethics when exposing that Karen Ryan and Alberto Garcia, the two “reporters” for the Medicare ads, were actors and not real journalists as depicted in this “infoganda.”?

One video ends as Ryan signs off with “In Washington, I’m Karen Ryan reporting.” The other shows Garcia, who identifies himself as a reporter, interviewing a Bush administration official. But both reporters received prepared scripts for the act and aren’t journalists. Ryan, in fact, runs her own public relations firm. ?

It’s bad enough that multinational corporations constantly misrepresent actors, in whatever capacity, as bona fide professionals endorsing their products. But to have our government get in on the act, at the expense of taxpayer money, is just plain wrong.

According to the Institute for Social and Ethical Responsibility, this publicity campaign will cost the American public $124 million during the next two years. It is true that the government has a responsibility to educate the public about the new Medicare program. After all, there are many, including myself, who are confused about the nuances of the new law and how the changes will affect those receiving Medicare.

This might have been an acceptable outlet to better inform the public of a complex and important issue. But these videos go beyond educating – they are clear examples of propaganda that you and I are paying for. In one of the videos, Bush is receiving a roaring standing ovation following the signing of the controversial new law.

According to Pear, “Federal law prohibits the use of federal money for publicity or propaganda purposes not authorized by Congress.”

People, this is a slippery slope that Bush is lubing up (perhaps with Middle Eastern oil). It is exactly this kind of cozy, or at least suspect, relationship between media and government that kept Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party in power for 70 consecutive years before the previous elections. While the Mexican media is making great strides in responsible and professional journalism, are we in the United States letting our guard down?

As is often the case, the proper laws to inhibit such blatant acts of deceit are on the books. Unfortunately, there is no one in Congress or elsewhere with the political huevos, or will, to hold the administration, and political establishment in general, responsible for such acts of treason against our flailing trust in government. I guess it’s left up to the real media.

Jay Lively is a senior print journalism major from Louisville.

This commentary does not reflect the views of the Herald, Western or its administration.