Entry for February 23, 2006

The flip side to the squelching of dissent I wrote about yesterday, is the Bush administration’s public relations efforts.  The GAO just issued a report, “Media Contracts:  Activities and Financial Obligations for Seven Federal Departments”    The report looked at self-reports from staffs at Commerce, Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security Interior, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs.

During the period from 2003 to March of 2005, these agencies admit to spending $1.68 billion dollars to sell federal programs.

Democrats requested that GAO conduct the study after last year’s evidence of covert propaganda” from public relations firms.    The report was released by the Democrats on February 13.  Said Representative Miller, who my readers may remember was one of the first to criticize MSHA and ask for hearing after the Sago Mine disaster,

The extent of the Bush Administration’s propaganda effort is unprecedented and disturbing. The fact is that after all the spin, the American people are stuck with high prescription drug prices, high gas prices, and high college costs.  This report raises serious questions about this Administration’s priorities for the country and I would hope that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle would agree that changes need to be made to reign in the President’s propaganda machine.

This time last year,  on February 17,  Comptroller General David M. Walker had written  the heads of government departments and agengies warning that  the promotion of government policies through video news releases meant to look like TV news stories  violated  federal rules enacted since  1951  prohibiting  the use of appropriated funds for publicity or  propaganda.

 The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy was criticized in for  a 2004 series of video news releases in which a narrator, identified as “Karen Ryan” or “Mike Morris,” said she or he was “reporting” on the office’s activities. The tapes were sent to local television stations for use in news programs.

Health and Human Services Department’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services produced video news releases touting changes to Medicare  also narrated by “Karen Ryan” and were offered to local TV news operations.

In both cases, Walker wrote,

television-viewing audiences did not know that stories they watched on television news programs about the government were, in fact, prepared by the government. We concluded that those prepackaged news stories violated the publicity or propaganda prohibition.

The Department of Education had also paid conservative commentator Armstrong Williams to promote the No Child Left Behind Act on the radio and in his columns.

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