Monday, March 21, 2005
All the news that's too fake to print
Frank Rich writes about the Bush White House presenting fake news-like infomercials to promote its agenda in this latest New York Times column (registration required):
That $97 million [paid to public relations giant, Ketchum Communications by the Bush Administration] may yet prove a mere down payment. The Times reported last weekend that the administration told executive-branch agencies simply to ignore a stern directive by the Congressional Government Accountability Office discouraging the use of "covert propaganda" like the Karen Ryan "news reports." In other words, the brakes are off, and before long, the government could have a larger budget for fake news than actual television news divisions have for real news. At last weekend's Gridiron dinner, Mr. Bush made a joke about how "most" of his good press on Social Security came from Armstrong Williams, and the Washington press corps yukked it up. The joke, however, is on them - and us.
USA Today reported this month that the Department of Homeland Security, having failed miserably to secure American ports and air transportation from potential Al Qaeda attacks, has nonetheless shelled out $100,000-plus to hire "a Hollywood liaison": Bobbie Faye Ferguson, an actress whose credits include the movie "The Bermuda Triangle" and guest shots on television schlock like "Designing Women" and "The Dukes of Hazzard." She will "work with moviemakers and scriptwriters" to give us homeland security infotainment - which is to actual homeland security what the movie "Independence Day" is to an actual terrorist attack.
Another propagandist with a rising profile is Susan Molinari, the onetime CBS News personality who appears regularly on news shows like "Hardball" and "Capitol Report." As she bloviates from the right about Social Security or the fake newsman Jeff Gannon, she is invariably described as "a former Republican Congresswoman" or a "CNBC political analyst." But her actual current jobs remain mysteriously unmentioned: C.E.O. of the Washington Group, Ketchum's lobbying firm, and president of Ketchum Public Affairs. Were the Ketchum link disclosed, perhaps some real NBC reporter might find the nerve to ask her what other Karen Ryans and Armstrong Williamses might be on the Ketchum payroll. Or not.