The White House is defending its practice of replacing real news with fake video news releases (VNRs,) according to ABC News, which, by the way, has run video news releases about clients of mine in the past.
The investigative arm of Congress recently asserted the videos violate rules against using tax money to promote administration policy to a domestic audience.
VNRs are an old PR tool, and the TV stations that use them include the major networks in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago as well as cable stations in the boonies. The releases sometimes feature fake TV “reporters” — and are often aired by stations without any indication of who produced them. Millions of people see the fake reports.
My client’s VNR seen by 100 million
This complicity is not likely to hurt anyone when it announces a new vacuum cleaner technology, but it can and will result in death and destruction when it is used in a propaganda war to justify the Iraq War.
A VNR I produced for Miracle-Gro about the winner of the $100,000 Tomato Contest I orchestrated, was one of the top VNRs of the year, seen by more than 100 million people in every major market of the US and many overseas market.
PR agencies make thousands upon thousands for producing the propaganda pieces and the TV stations that run them collect fees from the government agencies that produce the spots and the affiliate stations that show them. So clearly, it’s not just the government that is to blame.
PR Firms and TV Stations Equally Guilty
I certainly would refuse to work on a VNR that would be used in government propaganda. But many PR people apparently wouldn’t, given the millions that have been made from government VNR contracts. And with budget cuts straining their ability to produce their own reports, many stations willingly run VNRs.
Talk to them and they will follow the Neurenbourg Philosphy: I’m just doing what everyone else does.
The practice also occurred during the Clinton administration, although not to the degree it occurs under Bush.
The New York Times noted on Sunday 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, records and interviews show. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government’s role in their production.”
The blame needs to be placed where it belongs: on everyone involved. And the practice of the government engineering news needs to be stopped immediately.