EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the April 11, 2005, issue of National Review.
TPresident Bush’s March 16 news conference, a reporter noted that the White House has banned paying journalists to promote the Bush agenda–a reference to the Armstrong Williams scandal–but then asked, “Your administration continues to make use of video news releases, which are prepackaged news stories sent to television stations, fully aware that some or many of these stations will air them without any disclaimer that they are produced by the government. . . . Does it raise ethical questions about the use of government money?”
Bush answered by citing a Justice Department opinion that says producing video news releases, or VNRs, is legal, “so long as they’re based upon facts, not advocacy.” He said he expected departments to follow that ruling, adding that it would be a good thing if local television stations that used such stories would tell viewers the source of the material.
That the issue of VNRs came up in a news conference dominated by the war in Iraq, the nuclear ambitions of Iran, and the Social Security battle is a measure of just how strained relations have become between the administration and some members of the press corps. Although it appears to be a minor contretemps, the issue of VNRs has actually become something of a cause among the president’s critics.
“The White House isn’t backing off its plan to replace real news with faux news,” New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote on March 17. (Some of the president’s adversaries have adopted the phrase “faux news” — they like it not only because of its obvious meaning but also because of its slightly less obvious play on Fox News.) “Faux news is good news–to Bush,” declared Salon’s Eric Boehlert. “You can be sure that the administration’s faux news will always be good news,” chimed the Times’s Frank Rich….
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