About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Bush administration buys news, getting closer to Orwellian society

I don't want to be too paranoid (a bit of paranoia is probably actually good for survival), but the recent New York Times article by Robert Pear has confirmed what most thinking people already knew: the Bush administration is not in the business of promoting an open, democratic dialog even within American society (let alone "exporting democracy" to the rest of the uncivilized world).

Federal auditors (I repeat: Federal) concluded that the Bush administration violated the law in using public money to buy favorable coverage of news about Bush's "no child left behind" and other educational policies. Interestingly, such ruling comes with absolutely no provisions for punishment of the violators of the law, which raises questions about what the point of a law without punishment is actually supposed to be.

Regardless, it's still disturbing. The Government Accountability Office actually said that the White House has disseminated "covert propaganda." The auditors also commented on the fact that the Administration spent money to commission monitoring news coverage to see if its "message" was being reported: "We see no use for such information except for partisan political purposes. Engaging in a purely political activity such as this is not a proper use of appropriated funds."

Moreover, the Bush people engaged a woman named Karen Ryan to do a packaged television story about the Administration's program to provide remedial instruction and tutoring to children. After having presented the program in a positive light, the video segment ended with "In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting." Except that this was no "report" done by an independent journalistic agency, it was paid for by the Bush administration, in an obvious attempt to deceive the public.

Again, the Accountability Office: "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."

Not quite Orwellian yet, but getting closer. And I predict decreased funding for the Government Accountability Office in the near future...


  1. It is a sad state of affiars when the government has to take my money and use it convince of things that I disagree with, and than try to trick me.

    I read the whole report, it is rather long, but it makes a very clear point:

    " Our opinions have emphasized that the critical element of covert propaganda is concealment of the government's role in producing the materials. Agencies have violated this law when they used appropriated funds to produce articles and op-ed pieces that were the ostensible position of persons not associated with the government."

    They can get information out to the public, but they can't lie about where it came from. Now, why would anyone in the government want to lie about where the information is coming from....

  2. This has been bothering me for some time now ... http://dailydoubt.blogspot.com/2005/03/4th-branch-of-government.html

    The most frustrating thing, for me, other than the public and press ambivalency about the corruption of the fourth estate, was when the Justice Dept. basically told the GAO to shove off when the GAO first ruled, some time ago, that the prepackaged news segments were covert propaganda.

    Honestly, 3 paid journalists, prepackaged news segments, one fake journalist allowed into press briefings ... how much more would turn up if there was a full scale investigation? Anyone who visits SourceWatch or reads the work of Sheldon and Rauber knows how fully integrated this administration is with the PR industry.

    And don't get me started on this administration's loose use of language.

    "Political language ... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." - Orwell, Politics and the English Language

  3. Correction, those authors are Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber. Got their names merged in my mind.


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