Our Orwellian Universe

Today NYT editorial, “Counterfeit News,” points back to a disturbing article from a few days ago: “Under Bush, a New Age of Pre-packaged News.” The article documents the extent to which the White House and over 20 federal agencies spent millions of dollars to produced “video news releases” which are clearly intended to appear as authentic news reports. (This is on top of the White House’s employment of paid pundits to author columns in favor of their policies, or planting reporters in the White House press room to toss softball questions to W.) These visual propoganda leaflets were regularly picked up by local news stations and broadcast “as is,” without any qualifiers or provisos. The article is really a must read.

The editorial rightly distributes blame here: certainly these federal agencies are at fault, but the Times says blame equally lies on the shoulders of those news outlets which employed the videos. We should also qualify this carefully by noting that the same practice was used under the Clinton administration, though it has been expanded under Bush.

The temptation of these moralistic criticisms, however, is to imagine that apart from these artifacts of federal propoganda, we are the gifted recipients of “real” news. In a culture where the major networks and news outlets are controlled by massive market interests, let’s not kid ourselves. This came home to me during our sojourn in Cambridge: for those who restrict themselves to mainstream American news sources–and I’m not talking about FOX, but ABC, NBC, even the NYT–the foreign media can constitute nothing short of a revelation. These latest revelations only confirm David Domke’s analysis of the press’s complicity with the White House’s “political fundamentalism.”