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The public defender for Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski, the so-called “Unabomber” (see April 3, 1996), files a court order seeking to stop other lawyers from trying to take over Kaczynski’s defense. Michael Donahoe, a public defender, cites Montana state rules forbidding lawyers from asking a defendant to hire them if they know the defendant already has a lawyer, and prohibiting requests involving coercion. “This case has drawn substantial media attention, and that attention has caused people from a variety of disciplines to offer services to Mr. Kaczynski,” Donahoe says in his motion. Some lawyers have, Donahoe says, “taken it upon themselves to contact Mr. Kaczynski directly,” including a California lawyer, Warren Wilson. Reuters observes, “Lawyers frequently offer their services free in highly visible cases because of the publicity they generate.” [Reuters, 4/8/1996]
According to NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell, “high-level people at the CIA” say that no senior officials at the agency ever looked at the verbal report made by Joseph Wilson upon returning from Niger (see March 4-5, 2002), nor did they look at the notes from that report (see March 8, 2002). Senior agency officials, Mitchell says, “didn’t even know that it was he who had made this report, because he was sent over by some of the covert operatives in the CIA at a very low level, not, in fact, tasked by the vice president.” If true, Mitchell says, claims that Vice President Dick Cheney asked about the Iraq-Niger uranium claims, and that Wilson was sent to Niger as a result of Cheney’s queries, “may not, in fact, be true. It could very well be that the vice president is correct, that he never asked for Joe Wilson to be sent, that it was a much lower level.” Although Cheney may not have known of the Wilson mission until after its completion, he did in fact ask for an inquiry into the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see (February 13, 2002)). Mitchell is apparently repeating claims from the White House designed to emphasize its contention that neither Cheney nor anyone in his office had anything to do with sending Wilson to Niger
(see July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, and July 7-8, 2003). [CNBC, 7/8/2003] The same day, Reuters reports a similar claim from another US intelligence official, stating that “Wilson was sent to investigate the Niger reports by mid-level CIA officers, not by top-level Bush administration officials. There is no record of his report being flagged to top level officials, the intelligence official said.” The Reuters report quotes the official as saying about Wilson and his recent New York Times op-ed (see July 6, 2003), “He is placing far greater significance on his visit than anyone in the US government at the time it was made.” Progressive columnist Joshua Micah Marshall responds: “The message here seems pretty clear: Joseph who? Wilson, this ‘intelligence official’ is saying, is some small-time operator who got sent to Niger by some mid-level functionaries at the CIA. All the people who counted had no idea he’d even gone on his trip. And they certainly didn’t know about his vaunted report.… I don’t find this claim particularly credible.… I don’t think dumping on Wilson, which seems to be the White House’s preferred strategy now, is going to cut it.” [Joshua Micah Marshall, 7/8/2003]
Stations such as Los Angeles’s KABC-TV routinely re-edit graphics to fit their own formatting. The graphic on the left was part of a VNR produced by a private firm; on the right is KABC’s edited graphic. [Source: PRWatch (.org)] (click image to enlarge)An investigation by the New York Times reveals that the government’s use of “video news releases,” or so-called “fake news” reports provided by the government and presented to television news viewers as real news (see March 15, 2004), has been used by far more government agencies than previously reported. The Times report finds that VNRs from the State Department, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Agriculture Department are among the agencies providing VNRs to local television news broadcasters. Previous media reports focused largely on the VNRs provided by the Department of Health and Human Services to tout the Bush administration’s Medicare proposals. The Times finds that “at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years.… Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government’s role in their production.… [T]he [Bush] administration’s efforts to generate positive news coverage have been considerably more pervasive than previously known. At the same time, records and interviews suggest widespread complicity or negligence by television stations, given industry ethics standards that discourage the broadcast of prepackaged news segments from any outside group without revealing the source.”
VNRs Presented as Actual News - While government VNRs are generally labeled as being government productions on the film canister or video label, the VNRs themselves are designed, the Times writes, “to fit seamlessly into the typical local news broadcast. In most cases, the ‘reporters’ are careful not to state in the segment that they work for the government. Their reports generally avoid overt ideological appeals. Instead, the government’s news-making apparatus has produced a quiet drumbeat of broadcasts describing a vigilant and compassionate administration.” The VNRs often feature highly choreographed “interviews” with senior administration officials, “in which questions are scripted and answers rehearsed. Critics, though, are excluded, as are any hints of mismanagement, waste or controversy.”
Benefits to All except News Consumers - The Times explains how VNRs benefit the Bush administration, private public relations firms, networks, and local broadcasters: “Local affiliates are spared the expense of digging up original material. Public relations firms secure government contracts worth millions of dollars. The major networks, which help distribute the releases, collect fees from the government agencies that produce segments and the affiliates that show them. The administration, meanwhile, gets out an unfiltered message, delivered in the guise of traditional reporting.” News viewers, however, receive propaganda messages masquerading as real, supposedly impartial news reports.
Ducking Responsibility - Administration officials deny any responsibility for the use of VNRs as “real” news. “Talk to the television stations that ran it without attribution,” says William Pierce, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services. “This is not our problem. We can’t be held responsible for their actions.” But the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has disagreed, calling the use of government-produced VNRs “covert propaganda” because news viewers do not know that the segments they are watching are government productions (see May 19, 2004). However, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Justice Department (see March 2005) have called the practice legal, and instructed executive branch agencies to merely ignore the GAO findings.
Creative Editing - The Times gives an example of how seamlessly government-produced propaganda can be transformed into seemingly real news segments. In one segment recently provided by the Agriculture Department, the agency’s narrator ends the segment by saying, “In Princess Anne, Maryland, I’m Pat O’Leary reporting for the US Department of Agriculture.” The segment is distributed by AgDay, a syndicated farm news program shown on some 160 stations; the segment is introduced as being by “AgDay’s Pat O’Leary.” The final sentence was edited to state: “In Princess Anne, Maryland, I’m Pat O’Leary reporting.” Final result: viewers are unaware that the AgDay segment is actually an Agriculture Department production. AgDay executive producer Brian Conrady defends the practice: “We can clip ‘Department of Agriculture’ at our choosing. The material we get from the [agency], if we choose to air it and how we choose to air it is our choice.” The public relations industry agrees with Conrady; many large PR firms produce VNRs both for government and corporate use, and the Public Relations Society of America gives an annual award, the Bronze Anvil, for the year’s best VNR.
Complicity by News Broadcasters - Several major television networks help distribute VNRs. Fox News has a contract with PR firm Medialink to distribute VNRs to 130 affiliates through its video feed service, Fox News Edge. CNN distributes VNRs to 750 stations in the US and Canada through its feed service, CNN Newsource. The Associated Press’s television news distributor does the same with its Global Video Wire. Fox News Edge director David Winstrom says: “We look at them and determine whether we want them to be on the feed. If I got one that said tobacco cures cancer or something like that, I would kill it.” TVA Productions, a VNR producer and distributor, says in a sales pitch to potential clients, “No TV news organization has the resources in labor, time or funds to cover every worthy story.” Almost “90 percent of TV newsrooms now rely on video news releases,” it claims. The reach can be enormous. Government-produced VNRs from the Office of National Drug Control Policy reached some 22 million households over 300 news stations. And news stations often re-record the voiceover of VNRs by their own reporters, adding to the illusion that their own reporters, and not government or PR employees, are doing the actual reporting.
Office of Broadcasting Services - The State Department’s Office of Broadcasting Services (OBS) employs around 30 editors and technicians, who before 2002 primarily distributed video from news conferences. But in early 2002, the OBS began working with close White House supervision to produce narrated feature reports promoting American policies and achievements in Afghanistan and Iraq, and supporting the Bush administration’s rationale for invading those countries. Between 2002 and now, the State Department has produced 59 such segments, which were distributed to hundreds of domestic and international television broadcasters. The State Department says that US laws prohibiting the domestic dissemination of propaganda don’t apply to the OBS. Besides, says State Department spokesman Richard Boucher: “Our goal is to put out facts and the truth. We’re not a propaganda agency.” State Department official Patricia Harrison told Congress last year that such “good news” segments are “powerful strategic tools” for influencing public opinion. The Times reports that “a review of the department’s segments reveals a body of work in sync with the political objectives set forth by the White House communications team after 9/11.” One June 2003 VNR produced by the OBS depicts US efforts to distribute food and water to the people of southern Iraq. The unidentified narrator condluded, “After living for decades in fear, they are now receiving assistance—and building trust—with their coalition liberators.” OBS produced several segments about the liberation of Afghan women; a January 2003 memo called the segments “prime example[s]” of how “White House-led efforts could facilitate strategic, proactive communications in the war on terror.” OBS typically distributes VNRs through international news organizations such as Reuters and the Associated Press, which then distribute them to major US networks, which in turn transmit them to local affiliates.
The Pentagon Channel and 'Hometown News' - In 2004, the Defense Department began providing The Pentagon Channel, formerly an in-house service, to cable and satellite operators in the US. The content is provided by Pentagon public relations specialists who produce “news reports” identical to those produced by local and national news broadcasters. And the content is free. The Pentagon Channel’s content is supplemented by the Army and Air Force Hometown News Service (HNS), a 40-man unit that produces VNRs for local broadcasters focusing on the accomplishments of “hometown” soldiers. Deputy director Larry Gilliam says of the service, “We’re the ‘good news’ people.” Their reports, tailored for specific local stations, reached 41 million households in 2004. But the service’s VNRs sometimes go beyond celebrating a hometown hero. Weeks after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, HNS released a VNR that lauded the training of military policemen at Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood, where many of the MPs involved in the scandal were trained. “One of the most important lessons they learn is to treat prisoners strictly but fairly,” the “reporter” in the segment says. A trainer tells the narrator that MPs are taught to “treat others as they would want to be treated.” Gilliam says the MP report had nothing to do with the Pentagon’s desire to defend itself from accusations of mistreatment and prisoner abuse. “Are you saying that the Pentagon called down and said, ‘We need some good publicity?’” Gilliam asks the Times reporter. He answers his own question, “No, not at all.” [New York Times, 3/13/2005]
Congress Bans Use of Government VNRs - Two months after the Times article is published, Congress will ban the use of government VNRs for propaganda purposes (see May 2005).
Entity Tags: Brian Conrady, Transportation Security Administration, Richard A. Boucher, Reuters, Associated Press, US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Defense, US Department of Health and Human Services, AgDay, Army and Air Force Hometown News Service, William Pierce, US Department of Justice, US Department of State, Pentagon Channel, US Census Bureau, Pat O’Leary, David Winstrom, Fort Leonard Wood, Patricia Harrison, Bush administration (43), CNN, Fox News, Public Relations Society of America, Larry Gilliam, Office of Management and Budget, Office of National Drug Control Policy, Office of Broadcasting Services, Government Accountability Office, Medialink, New York Times
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Impelled by polls showing that Democrats may not do as badly as predicted in the upcoming November midterm elections, Republican political organizations pour vast amounts of money into tight Senate and House races in the final days, according to a Reuters analysis of data provided by the Wesleyan Media Project and from Democratic organizers. The controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010) has “opened the floodgates” for corporate money to be used in electioneering and advertising, much of that money going anonymously to political parties and operations (see September 13-16, 2010 and October 2010). Much of the money is targeting three Senate races in Colorado, Kentucky, and California. Republicans are confident that they will gain control of the House of Representatives, but must gain 10 seats to control the Senate, a prospect that is not as likely. Last-minute spending surges are common in elections, but experts say they have never seen so much spending in the last days of a race. Pollster Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center is not sure the last-minute surge of spending, almost all of which is going to advertising, will have a major effect. Most voters’ minds are made up by now, Kohut says. Data shows that organizations affiliated with Republicans have outspent their Democratic rivals by more than a 3-1 ratio. In Nevada, “independent” organizations are pouring money into attack ads against Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) and in support of challenger Sharron Angle (R-NV). Late campaign spending is fairly equal, according to the data, and the polls for that race are very tight. In Colorado, “tea party” favorite Ken Buck (R-CO) is losing ground to incumbent Michael Bennet (D-CO), and in response, Republican groups have funneled money into ads supporting Buck and attacking Bennet to create a 2-1 spending ratio in favor of Buck. A similar instance exists in Kentucky, where another tea party favorite, Rand Paul (R-KY), is losing ground to Jack Conway (D-KY), and Republican spending on Paul’s behalf has made for a 2-1 spending ratio in favor of Paul. In California, where popular Democrat Barbara Boxer (D-CA) once had a 2-1 spending advantage over her opponent Carly Fiorina (R-CA), pro-Fiorina groups have recently outspent pro-Boxer groups 5-1. In Pennsylvania, pro-Republican groups are heavily outspending Democrats, largely to support Republican favorite Pat Toomey (R-PA) over Joe Sestak (D-PA). In Delaware, Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell (R-DE), whose campaign has raised large amounts of money from out-of-state financiers, has not received the lavish funding that her Republican colleagues have gotten to defeat her opponent Chris Coons (D-DE). O’Donnell has received some $300,000 from right-wing and tea party groups. But Coons is receiving virtually no support from independent pro-Democratic groups, possibly because polls indicate he will win the election and does not need the last-minute funding support. The elections will be held on November 2. [Reuters, 10/27/2010] The results of the massive spending are mixed. The Republican winners include Paul and Toomey. The Republican losers include Angle, Buck, Fiorina and O’Donnell. [National Public Radio, 11/3/2010]
Entity Tags: Christine O’Donnell, Chris Coons, Wesleyan Media Project, Barbara Boxer, Andrew Kohut, Sharron Angle, Reuters, US House of Representatives, Carly Fiorina, Joe Sestak, Jack Conway, Harry Reid, Rand Paul, Pat Toomey, Ken Buck, Michael Bennet
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
President Obama speaks on the topic of clean energy in front of the Copper Mountain Solar Project in Boulder City, Nevada, in March 2012. [Source: CleanTechnica (.org)]An analysis by Reuters claims that the $90 billion investment made by the federal government to generate jobs in the field of clean energy (see February 2009) has not produced as many jobs as initially touted. In March 2012, President Obama spoke in front of the Copper Mountain Solar Project in Boulder City, Nevada, which uses 1 million solar panels to power 17,000 homes. The facility only employs 10 people. The green initiative has put people to work retrofitting over a million homes to lower heating and cooling costs, and energy generation from solar and wind sources has nearly doubled since 2008. But some say the program has not created enough jobs. Critics say the program was expected to lower the unemployment rate, currently hovering above 8 percent, and say it has not done so. Supporters say the administration promised too much in the short term and fear a backlash that might undermine support for clean-energy policies across the board. Clean energy specialist Mark Muro of the Brookings Institution says, “All of this stuff is extraordinarily worthy for driving long-term economic transformation but extremely inappropriate to sell as a short-term job program.” Janet Bluman, head of the Foundation for an Independent Tomorrow, says, “From my perspective it makes more sense for us to arm our clients with the basic skills, rather than saying, ‘By golly, you will do something in the green economy or you won’t work.’” Bluman claims that her organization, which trains people for jobs in the Las Vegas area, has seen positions in trucking and accounting go unfilled because training money had been earmarked for green efforts. The federal program earmarked some $500 million for job training, and has employed some 20,000 people, far short of its stated goal. Republicans say the clean-energy program is merely a way for the Obama administration to give money to Obama’s friends (see October 15, 2012). GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has claimed, “[Obama] handed out tens of billions of dollars to green energy companies, including his friends and campaign contributors at companies like Solyndra that are now bankrupt.” Romney and other Republicans have not advanced proof of their allegations. Supporters say that in the long term, clean energy will “create a bounty of stable, middle-class jobs and fill the gap left by manufacturing work that has moved overseas,” as Reuters reports. White House officials say that there is more to the clean energy program than creating jobs. “We have a record of success that has created tens of thousands of jobs and is ensuring that America is not ceding these industries to countries like China,” White House spokesman Clark Stevens says. “Thanks to the investments we’ve made, these industries will continue to grow, along with the jobs they create.” Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), an opponent of the program, says: “The green jobs-training program just didn’t work. It was a poor investment of tax dollars.” Darren Devine of the College of Southern Nevada says: “Will it add a significant number of jobs, enough to make a real dent in our unemployment? No, I don’t see that happening.” What it will do is help the country reduce its energy consumption, lower the amount of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere, and help create jobs in the clean-energy and other fields, such as health care, education, and technology. [Reuters, 4/13/2012]
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