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This issue of PR Watch takes a look at fake news, specifically video news releases or VNRs. Since 1993, the Center for Media and Democracy, PR Watch's publisher, has been exposing VNRs and fake news as a tool of the public relations industry. Last year marked the first time the common use of VNRs broke into national headlines. But it wasn't until the March 13, 2005 New York Times front-page exposé on the Bush administration's use of VNRs that public outrage forced some political action.
According to the non-partisan, pro-democracy organization Freedom House's annual survey, "the United States has suffered 'notable setbacks' in press freedom,” slipping to 24th of 194 countries. One reason is the paid pundit and video news release controversies. Such fake news "may be even worse than poisoning public debate on specific issues,” said communications professor Martin Kaplan. "It corrodes the ability of real journalism to do its job.”
The PR industry, however, remains confident that they can manage the issue so that it will blow over. As PR Watch's founder John Stauber wrote recently after listening in on a teleconference of VNR producers, "These fellows are whistling past the graveyard, assuring themselves that this all is no big deal. There was no hint of shame, certainly no apologizing, just apparent disdain for having their business practices dissected on the front page of the New York Times.”
The Center for Media and Democracy and the media reform group Free Press have joined together in a "Stop Fake News!" campaign. See the "No Fake News!" page for more on what you can do to stop this degeneration of democracy and to demand real news.