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HHS Hires Advertising Firm That Assisted With Propaganda Last Year

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The Bush Administration has hired Ketchum Inc. to oversee its advertising campaign for its new Medicare prescription drug benefit plan.

Under the $25 million Health & Human Services contract, Ketchum will produce radio, television, magazine and newspaper advertising. Enrollment for the new benefit begins Nov. 15.

It’s nice to have friends in high places.

Ketchum, you may remember, was hired last year by Health & Human Services to produce undocumented propaganda — a series of undocumented video news releases featuring actors posing as journalists. Separately, Ketchum was hired by the Department of Education to produce similar undocumented video news releases touting No Child Left Behind. Ketchum also arranged a subcontract with Graham Williams Group, headed by conservative pundit Armstrong Williams, to talk up the administration program.

The non-partisan Government Accountability Office earlier this month found that the various efforts were “covert propaganda,” and in violation of “governmentwide” anti-propaganda rules.

In other words, Ketchum was the administration’s accomplice in trying to trick the American people into supporting Bush Administration policies. Its video news release for HHS, supplied to some 40 television stations’ news departments, wasn’t identified as government-produced. Neither was its video news release for Education. Armstrong Williams didn’t identify himself as a paid governemnt spokesman.


Perhaps the administration is rewarding Ketchum, after the firm got entangled in its propaganda efforts. In its ruling, the GAO suggested it was the administration’s decision to created undocumented propaganda — albeit with Ketchum as a willing accomplice.

We know that Education asked Ketchum to “create a localized video news feed that features a spokesperson with a localized ‘message’ for each of the 30-target markets.” HHS asked Ketchum to do similar work. We know that the Education asked Ketchum to subcontract to Williams.

We also know that the Justice Department justified its propaganda because it was, as President Bush put it, “based upon facts, not advocacy” — as if his administration would pay a journalist or create a video news release to oppose the administration.

It’s that kind of spin that should put a chill down every Americans’ spine.


Officially, HHS officials say Ketchum got the new work because it already had a multiyear contract to provide public relations services for the department. The firm promised the new ads will not cross the legal line.

The Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services logo appeared prominently in an eight-page insert in Parade magazine on Sept. 25. A second insert is planned for Oct. 16.

Surveys show that seniors trust Medicare information more if they see it is from the government, Kathleen Harrington, a manager overseeing the education campaign for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told the Washington Post, “so it’s in the interest of our success to do this and to label everything appropriately.”

Let’s hope that’s not the only reason HHS wants to do things appropriately. Let’s hope it, and the rest of the Bush Administration, recognize that undocumented propaganda is the stuff of dictatorships, not democracies that value a free and independent media.


This item first appeared at Journalists Against Bush’s B.S.

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About David R. Mark

  • 1Potato

    Your link about how the GAO called Bushes ads “covert propaganda” does not link to the GAO. It links to some anti Bush website that claims the GAO stated that.

    Why can’t you just link the the actual GAO statement you claim they made? Can’t you at least quote it?


  • david r. mark

    There are several links in the piece to the GAO. There are also a couple of links to earlier items I wrote on the subject, and a link to a Washington Post article.

    The GAO findings are hardly in doubt on the subject.

  • 1Potato

    Well, I doubt their existence. So I guess they are in doubt.


  • david r. mark

    Then you are simply in denial. You can check the links provided, you can do a Google search, you can read one of 41 newspapers nationwide that wrote on the subject. Your choice.

    But to say, “don’t confuse me with the facts,” is sort of ridiculous.