Addicted to novelty since 2001

The Counterfeit News

I’m a little late on this, but it’s worthy of mention. The American government has apparently been manufacturing news (via John Dvorak):

The Bush administration has produced news look-alike video propaganda clips and successfully persuaded television news stations across the country to air them uncritically and, often, uncut. As many as 20 government departments have produced fake news that stations relayed as though they had produced the segments themselves according to the standard rules of journalism, the New York Times reported.

Both the Bush and the Schwarzenegger administrations have gone so far as to script introductory lines for the news anchor to read out – noting with satisfaction that in many cases their have been followed to the letter.

It’s one thing for our media to be beholden to commercial interests, but it’s another to be puppets for the state. I hate to sound all Orwellian, but can you say ‘state-run media’?

24 Responses to “The Counterfeit News”

  1. Jeff Running

    That’s a little misleading. The items that are being produced are not fake news items but rather PR pieces from government agencies. Darren, you work in the PR industry, if you could produce pieces that a news organization would run I bet your clients would be thrilled. The government is just like any other business; it needs a positive image and brand recognition. News organizations are bombarded with PR pieces every day. When they have a slow news day they select from the best produced pieces. It’s similar to selecting pieces from the wire service, however, since news organizations like free things they often pull from the submitted by external groups pile.

    This is exactly why I don’t watch local news. It all scare tactics, PR pieces, plugs for other shows on the station, and fluff.

  2. Darren

    Thanks for your comment, Jeff. There’s an important distinction to be made here. PR companies bombard the media with text pitches, not completely produced news segments with associated broadcaster speeches. PR professionals are saying “hey, I think you should do a story about x”, while the government is saying “I think you should do a story about x and here’s the story, here’s how it will run, and here’s what you should say about it”. Heck, even lousy newspapers rewrite press releases, instead of just printing them as is.

    Call me crazy, but I expect a news organization to actually document the news (whether by themselves or via a wire service), instead of accepting donated propaganda.

    Furthermore, I think we should hold our governments to a higher standard than we hold the average company to. After all, they are supposed to be leading our nation.

  3. Anonymous

    Darren, the CBC is more ‘state’ media than anything in the U.S. Until it is abolished, I don’t think any Canadian has the right to comment on other countries’ news.

  4. Darren

    Hello, anonymous poster. If you’ve got some facts to back up that claim, I’d be pleased to hear them.

    Let me start here: over 1000 mentions of the phrase sponsorship scandal on CBC’s website. Now, if they were puppets of the state, don’t you think that story would get less play? Or how about the 600 mentions about of the problems with the gun registry? Or, for a lighter side, how about the CBC’s line-up of highly influential political satire comedies?

    Your turn.

  5. Anonymous

    The is only one fact needed to back up my claim:


    As for the ‘hightly influential political satire comedies’ They are nothing more than celeberity roasts-you know where the people being insulted play-along. And it’s the right of center that gets bashed far more often, at tax-payer expense don’t forget. I assume this means nothing to you, however, since you are on the left, you support the attacks on the right, and are happy to have your taxes fund them.

  6. Steve2

    While I would take “state run” media of the CBC variety over our corporate-run crapfest any day, I think Darren is a bit naiive.

    PR firms for corporations do indeed provide “completely produced news segments with associated broadcaster speeches” to TV stations. Pharmaceutical companies do this all the time. Did you think all of that footage of white-coated people filling jars with the latest wonder drug came from your local station sending a camera crew to the factory? One of the firms that specializes in these “electronic press kits” is the one that did the dirtywork for Bush.

  7. Darren

    You’re still very short on facts. So far, you’ve got one. Despite having written it in capital letters, what conclusions can we draw from the fact that the CBC is taxpayer funded?

    If the CBC is giving the current government an easy ride, what of all that talk of sponsorship and gun registry scandals?

    More generally, what news agency would you hold up as a model of objective reporting?

    It’s interesting that you’ve pigeon-holed me on the left. Personally, I don’t approve of a simplistic left-right political spectrum. It’s fundamentally useless and only creates barriers to meaningful dialogue.

    For example, here I consider voting Conversative, here I disparage unions and here I argue for raising tuitions. My thinking, you see, isn’t limited by my vote in the last federal election. Which, as it happens, was for the Green Party and their socially progressive, fiscally responsible platform.

  8. Darren

    Steve2: Fair enough, I’ll grant you that PR agencies provide footage to media organizations. My point about governments being held to a higher standard than corporations still stands.

    I’d hope, however, that responsible media organizations use it within a segment that broader in its reporting than what’s gone on here. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case.

  9. Andrea

    In my professional experience, media often run entire news releases and success stories, as well as clips from corporate videos. I know because I’ve placed the pieces, including some for the government. The Bush Administration obviously has a big budget, but I’m not sure the move is all that different from what’s gone on in the past.

  10. Anonymous

    There are probably no examples of truly objective media, everyone has an agenda. It is up to the people to decide what to believe. That been said, the CBC is extremely left-wing. Anyone care to argue? When was the last time the CBC ran a story in support of a truly conservative (the idealogy, not the party) issue? Say anti-abortion or pro capital punishment?

    When private media takes a stance on either side of the political spectrum, they are free to do so, when a government funded agency takes a completely one-sided approach, I have a problem with that, and if the CBC were to be a right-wing network, liberals would have a problem too.

  11. Darren

    You’re still at total facts = 1. I’ll argue with your assertion that “the CBC is extremely left-wing”. While there’s no question that parts of the CBC are left-of-centre, but I think CBC News is admirably objective. Witness my previous examples about government scandals.

    Your notion that the CBC should run stories “in support of” positions is ludicrous. That’s exactly what we don’t want in a news agency, particularly a taxpayer-funded one. I think we can agree that the media should aspire to objectivity.

    Let me put the question back to you: show me examples of stories “in support of” abortion or opposed to capital punishment.

  12. Darren

    I meant to add that it’s no surprise that other parts of the CBC are left-of-centre. Around the world, throughout history, those involved in the arts have tended to be progressive and liberal.

  13. Anonymous

    I have been listening to American talk radio over the internet lately, of course people reading this are thinking ‘American right-wing trash etc…’ And it’s true, the hosts of these shows are very stereotypically pro-American, right of center people. But on the shows that I listen to (granted, I am sure not all shows are like this) they encourage opposition, they have ‘disagreement days’ where people are urged to phone in and voice their decent, and the most left-wing folks often do. And this sparks amazing (and true) debate.

    I do watch the CBC on TV and listen to Radio One from time to time and I have NEVER heard such disagreement of heard it be encouraged.

    Just one more thing, how many readers of this blog have actually listened to American talk-radio?

  14. Darren

    Let me offer this thought experiment:

    You want to build an objective media organization. Which is the better way to do that?

    1. Create a non-profit organization overseen by a democratically-elected government, with built-in standards, checks and balances and transparency to discourage bias.

    2. Create a for-profit organization owned by a corporation with diverse commercial interests, not beholden to any standards above and beyond the nation’s laws.

    I’m clear on which of those makes for more objectivity. Are you?

  15. Travis

    Objectivity in regards to what? Darren, I have a hard time taking seriously your argument that an organization (even the wonderful CBC) won’t naturally cover the source of its funding differently than some other organization. Do many newspapers do investigative reporting pieces on their publishers?

    The existence of lots of coverage of the CBC scandal may show “independence” but also reinforces that there was a big scandal — I think that weakens your overall stance that state-run media is better than private media.

    But let’s not get too far afield: Your original point still stands, regardless.

    You think that Bush pushing pre-fab PR stories into the media is positively Orwellian. Mr. Anonymous sniped back that we have state-run media in Canada. Those points are not contradictory, and Anon’s effort to redirect the conversation doesn’t rebut your initial queasiness.

    The GAO has ALREADY ruled that the Bush administration’s actions break existing law prohibiting government propganda in the U.S.. But the administration there has continued to make fake news pieces, and because Bush controls the Justice Department, and Republicans control Congess, there has been no federal or congressional investigation into this behavior.

  16. Andrea

    Darren, how come you have your blog set up so that we can’t copy text? Since you have an RSS feed, I can’t imagine it’s because you want to prevent people from hijacking your text. It would be nice if we could copy links, since not everyone uses HTML tags, or copy text to quote you in our own blogs. However, maybe you have good reasons for turning off “copy” in your newish site.

  17. Darren

    Andrea: Hmm…interesting. I wasn’t aware of this–it certainly wasn’t intentional. We’ve been doing some recent work on the site, so that may have b0rked things. I’ll look into it.

  18. Anonymous

    Darren, if I choose not to support Dan Rather’s lies by not watching CBS, I can. If I choose not to support the CBC by not watching Caroline Parish stomp on a Bush doll, I don’t have a choice, I pay income tax. Why is this not getting through to you? Well, like I said, if the CBC were a right-wing network, you’d have the same problems I do.

    “Create a non-profit organization overseen by a democratically-elected government, with built-in standards, checks and balances and transparency to discourage bias.”

    Yeah, right!

  19. Darren

    You didn’t answer my question. Which of the two options is the better way to build an objective news organization?

    I’m clear on your theory, but fail to see evidence of it. The fact is that every news station in the country covered the Caroline Parish affair, didn’t they? Are you arguing that it’s not news (it’s certainly sensationalist, but that’s what passes for news these days)?

    You’re upset about giving the government money for something you don’t approve of–what an original notion. That’s a downside, I think, of living in a democracy–you sometimes have to pay for things you don’t want.

  20. Anonymous

    Private enterprise is a better way to build a news organization. Objective? There’s probably no such thing. What it boils down to is choice. Being able to choose what I support. As for government money going to something I disapprove of, having it go to media is something that is not tangible. I.E. rather than my tax money going to build a hospital or send a kid to school, it’s going to push an agenda.

    It also boils down to plain partizanship, I watch Dennis Miller, listen to Michael Medved, I do this becaause these people have agendas. that I support. Just as you support the CBC, because they support your agenda. But of course, you’re not paying Dennis Miller’s salary. You have every right to subscripe to Air America, should you choose to.

  21. Darren

    I’m sorry that you don’t think objectivity is a value for a news organization to aspire to. I think it is.

    I think ‘reporting the news’ is no more or less tangible than ‘educating children’. It’s funny you should mention that example, because there’s as much or more agenda in education planning as there is in a state-funded media.

    I don’t support the CBC because they support my agenda (which is what, by the way?). I support them because they’re the best media organization in country.

  22. 'nee

    It’s interesting that FOX news has illegally received millions of dollars from the US Government, funneled through various ad agencies, and yet the CBC is targetted for because it’s – legally – publically funded?

    Besides which, Anonymous, the fact is that the majority of Canadians, according to independent pollsters, are pro-abortion, pro-publically-funded-healthcare, and are not against gay marriage. In short: we’re liberal. CBC coverage pretty evenly matches Canadian perspectives – Canadians are typically middle-of-the-road in their political beliefs.

    Either way, that doesn’t have anything to do with the CBC’s mandate to represent Canadian perspectives and to showcase Canadian art regardless of how uncommercial that showcasing may be – it’s an investment in Canadian creativity. Personally, I love that the country has a vessel for its own creative works, which the CBC is.

    Furthermore, the CBC was created when private companies weren’t willing to invest in infrastructure in the North, so that entire communities were without any news sources whatsoever. So much for privately funded news. Anyway, the government decided that an informed population was in line with Canadian government policy: we paid for those communications links, why should we sell them to a private sector that might not even, now, have paid for them? We’re a very sparsely populated, spread-out country.

    And lastly: the CBC is supported by the majority of Canadians. The polls say it’s true. So the CBC is an example of democratic decision making. Don’t like it, move to a country where the majority elects conservatives instead.

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