The New York Times Catches on to VNRs

New York Times reporters David Barstow and Robin Stein have written a lengthy report on the use of video news releases as covert propaganda. "Under the Bush administration," they write, "the federal government has aggressively used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged, ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies to auto insurance. In all, at least 20 federal agencies ... have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government's role." VNRs are produced for the government by private contractors and the State Department's Office of Broadcasting Services, the Agriculture Department's Broadcast Media and Technology Center, and the Defense Department's Pentagon Channel, among others. We've been criticizing VNRs used as propaganda for more than a decade. For example, our 1995 book Toxic Sludge Is Good For You described how VNRs were used to sell the first Bush administration's Persian Gulf war. It's nice to see the Times starting to notice.


The New York Times story you refer to also contained the following sentence: "The major networks, which help distribute the releases, collect fees from the government agencies that produce segments and the affiliates that show them." Can this really be true? Are major networks receiving payments from the government for running propaganda? I read the article through to the end, but found no further mention of these payments. Perhaps PRwatch could pick up where the Times left off. Thanks for all your work!