Friday, March 18, 2005

So, on Monday the media was abuzz with that New York Times story about the "covert propaganda" of the Bush administration. In all, a neat media story. The Bushies employ (horrors!) PR firms to spread word of federal programs and, well, propaganda, footage of interviews with administration spokesmen and the like telling the Bushies’ side of the story on current events. These videos look and feel like regular news video, complete with "reporters" on screen who are not really journalists. The trouble starts when these videos are run by television news teams who do not even bother to tell viewers what they’re watching.

The story struck me as funny, because it’s an open secret in the PR and publicity trade that a good press release, for example, will be plagiarized by the actual press. That’s its purpose, to tell a client’s story in so compelling a way that the journalist is defenseless before its sheer rhetorical power and decides not even to adjust the wording.

Michael Crichton, I just learned, does a riff on this in his new enviro thriller, State of Fear:
A weatherman appears on television reading verbatim from a press release from an alarmist anti-global warming organization.
"’That’s how they do it, these days,’ Kenner said. ‘They don’t even bother to change a phrase here and there. They just read the copy outright. And of course, what he’s saying is not true.’"

The difference with the administration's videos is only one of medium. Both sides are playing a credulous and incompetent media to their advantage.

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