Posted by Daniel Price on March 27, 2006

Changing the Past, One Newscast At a Time

Through planted news, three stations help GM stake a false claim in Internet history

Clients: General Motors
Release Date: March 2006
Aired By: 3 stations
Disclosed By: No stations

In a 24-hour period, three TV stations in three different states ran a news report that marked the 10-year anniversary of Internet car shopping. The story chronicled the vast changes that have occurred in the car-buying process since General Motors (GM) launched the first auto manufacturer web site in 1996.

Unbeknownst to viewers, both the news report and the historical claim came straight from GM itself, and both are fake.

On March 1, 2006, Medialink distributed a video news release (VNR) to television newsrooms on behalf of their client, General Motors. The two-minute promotional feature included soundbites from James Bell, the publisher of Intellichoice.com; Cindy McColley, a brand manager for GM; and Ted Lynhart, a GM/Pontiac dealer who has since appeared in a second VNR from General Motors. Additionally, the audio narrative—provided by Medialink's Kate Brookes—establishes GM's place in Internet lore while announcing new low prices on all their vehicles:

GM, who introduced the first manufacturer web site in 1996, has recently lowered prices, in some cases by thousands of dollars, on all of their models as a direct result of the customers' ability to comparison shop on the Internet.

The complete and uncut VNR was blended into the morning newscasts of KSLA-12 (Shreveport, LA) and WBOC-16 (Salisbury, MD). A slightly-edited version was used in the evening broadcast of WPMT-43 (Harrisburg, PA). All three stations kept the original voice of Kate Brookes, introducing her as if she were a staff reporter. Nobody at any of the three newscasts revealed to their viewers that the story was provided by Medialink and funded by GM.

Worse, no one attempted to fact-check GM's claim as the first car manufacturer to establish an online presence. A simple dated search for "automotive web site" in the Nexis news database revealed a press release from August 1995 in which Volkswagen heralded the launch of their web portal. It wasn't until February 1996 that General Motors announced gm.com in their own press release.

View the original VNR, as well as the KSLA-12 news feature, below. General Motors has also released VNRs about auto technicians and their Detroit headquarters.

Original General Motors VNR KSLA-12 6AM newscast
Created by Medialink March 3, 2006
Voiced by publicist Re-voiced by station anchor
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