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Actors pose as reporters in HHS videotape

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    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Newsgathering    

Actors pose as reporters in HHS videotape

  • A fake news clip, “reported” by actors posing as journalists, was sent to local TV stations by the Bush administration to promote the new Medicare prescription drug benefit.

March 16, 2004 — Actors posing as journalists are promoting changes in Medicare laws in a television segment authorized by the White House and sent to local broadcast stations throughout the country.

The tapes were distributed by the Department of Health and Human Services to educate Medicare beneficiaries, according to an article in yesterday’s New York Times. In the segment, government officials are interviewed about the new prescription drug benefit, President Bush is shown signing the Medicare bill, and a woman’s voice-over explains the bill’s benefits, the Times reported.

At the end of the tape, the woman says, “In Washington, I’m Karen Ryan reporting.” Nowhere in faux news segment does it say the video was paid for by the government.

The tapes were sent to local TV stations to be used, at the discretion of news directors, as editorial filler. Bill Pearson, a spokesman for Health and Human Services, said 40 stations have aired all or parts of the video since Feb. 12, the Los Angeles Times reported today.

Karen McBride, ethics scholar at the Poynter Institute, said news stations that air the video could lose credibility with their viewers.

“Any news director worth their salt would never allow this” tape on the air, McBride said.

The videos were discovered by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, during an investigation into the Bush administration’s use of federal funds for advertisements about the new Medicare bill.

The GAO found nothing illegal with those ads, but announced that it would launch a new investigation into the promotional video.

However, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said the fake news segment sent to TV stations is ethically wrong.

“The distribution of these videos is a covert attempt to manipulate the press,” Lautenberg told The New York Times.

McBride said video segments like these are common. The problem is when a journalist — or fake journalist, as it were — reports a story without divulging where the information came from.

“One of the many things that are damaging to journalists these days is that we are not transparent,” McBride said. “We should be telling people how and where we got this information. A few more words can go a long way in showing the public how we do our job.”

LH


© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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