President Bush is clearly a fan of the corporate world. He has said he wanted to run the government like a business, and his budgets have been laden with tax breaks and de-regulation favors for his corporate friends and supporters.
So maybe Bush saw the headline in today’s newspapers that Sony Pictures Entertainment must pay $1.5 million to settle a lawsuit accusing the studio of citing a fake movie critic in ads for several films.
The company created “David Manning of the Ridgefield Press” and manufactured quotes that ran in advertisements for the films Vertical Limit, A Knight’s Tale, The Animal, Hollow Man and The Patriot.
Officially, Sony Pictures did not admit any liability. But the fact that they are paying the money and offering a $5-a-ticket reimbursement to consumers speaks volumes.
Meanwhile, the president continues to stubbornly suggest that there’s nothing wrong with its version of using a fake critic in an advertisement — the use of government contractors posing as reporters and/or “man-on-the-street” interviewees in undocumented video news releases.
JABBS continues to hammer this point home because, although Congress has been working to put an end to the practice, the Bush administration doesn’t see anything wrong with the practice. In his most recent statement on the subject, in April, Bush acted very presidential, passing the buck on responsibility, and saying that it was up to individual television station producers to realize the VNRs were government-produced, and inform viewers. And if the producers didn’t know any better? Too bad. Let viewers be fooled.
JABBS hammers the Bush administration on this point because the government shouldn’t have to deceive the American people in order to win public favor for its policies. That holds true for Democratic or Republican politicians.
Whether the deception comes in the form of a misleading speech, a fake “Town Hall” meeting, a payment to a conservative journalist or pundit, fixing government reports to match administration policy, manufactured quotes in press releases, or an undocumented video news release doesn’t matter. They all serve the same purpose, and that purpose is alarmingly, unquestionably wrong. It shouldn’t matter whether you are a liberal or a conservative — you should not want your government to rely on propaganda that you would not accept from totalitarian regimes.
Rather than act proactively, the Bush administration is, in effect, waiting for Congress and the FCC to clamp down on undocumented VNRs.
The Senate already has passed the so-called Byrd Amendment, sponsored by Robert Byrd (D-WV) that says federal money cannot be used to prepare video news releases “unless the story includes a clear notification within the text or audio … that the prepackaged news story was prepared or funded” by the federal agency. That amendment is in effect until September, although Senate Commerce Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) has said he will try to push to make the amendment permanent.
Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and John Kerry (D-MA) offered the Truth in Broadcasting Act, would require agencies and the White House to include a disclaimer that is visible throughout the VNR and contains the words “PRODUCED BY THE U.S. GOVERNMENT.” Broadcasters would be penalized for removing the disclaimer.
That piece of legislation has stalled, as senators await for the Federal Communications Commission to render an opinion on the matter.
The FCC took nine comments on undocumented VNRs on June 22, and took replies to those comments on July 22, but has not yet rendered its opinion on the matter. FCC spokesperson Rebecca Fisher told JABBS that no timeline has been set for such an opinion, although others expect the FCC to act by the fall.
This article first appeared at Journalists Against Bush’s B.S.