Public Trust Busted
Buying of News by Bush's Aides Is Ruled Illegal (NYT):
WASHINGTON, Sept. 30 - Federal auditors said on Friday that the Bush administration violated the law by buying favorable news coverage of President Bush's education policies, by making payments to the conservative commentator Armstrong Williams and by hiring a public relations company to analyze media perceptions of the Republican Party.Mr. Williams had been paid by PR company Ketchum Inc. on request from the Education Dept. for favorable columns and TV spots regarding the No Child Left Behind Act. Further investigations revealed government commissioning of articles praising the administration for its work on increasing science literacy and praise for Medicare. The reports did not disclose that they were paid for by the government.
In a blistering report, the investigators, from the Government Accountability Office, said the administration had disseminated 'covert propaganda' in the United States, in violation of a statutory ban.
The contract with Mr. Williams and the general contours of the public relations campaign had been known for months. The report Friday provided the first definitive ruling on the legality of the activities.
Although these findings come with no penalty:
the accountability office said on Friday: "The failure of an agency to identify itself as the source of a prepackaged news story misleads the viewing public by encouraging the audience to believe that the broadcasting news organization developed the information. The prepackaged news stories are purposefully designed to be indistinguishable from news segments broadcast to the public. When the television viewing public does not know that the stories they watched on television news programs about the government were in fact prepared by the government, the stories are, in this sense, no longer purely factual. The essential fact of attribution is missing."
This news may not be as shocking as the indictment of Tom Delay, this week or the SEC investigation of Bill Frist, though Congress had worked to further clarify the propaganda ban and Mr. Bush had signed it into law in May. But, as Daniel Shore of NPR said on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday, "This hasn't been a happy week for Republicans."