Of late, however, their fake news product is failing the smell test, as more public scrutiny falls on this deceptive practice. And -- in the case of D S Simon -- they're seeking refuge under the wings of the 20th Century British satirist whose pen so convincingly skewered those who deliberately distort facts to serve the powerful. I'll get to Orwell in a moment. For now, here's the news that set Simon spinning.
Yesterday, the Senate voted 98-0 to pass a measure that would stop government agencies from handing over taxpayer funds to PR firms in exchange for VNRs cloaked as real news.
The Senate move follows the Federal Communications Commission’s notice to all newscasters and producers of VNRs to abide disclosure responsibilities under the Commission’s "sponsorship identification rules." The FCC notice was a direct response to the more than 40,000 Americans who signed a petition put forth by Free Press and the Center for Media and Democracy. The agency cites our efforts in the first sentence of the document.
These actions may cut deep into D S Simon’s bottom line, and company executive and namesake Douglas Simon has come out swinging in defense of the billion-dollar fake news industry that has served him so well.
In a press release circulated by BusinessWire, Simon claims that the FCC decision "could have a chilling effect on freedom of the press." Simon’s calculated response is a tactic known to those in his own industry as "wrapping oneself in the flag."
No, Mr Simon, the FCC decision has nothing to do with our treasured First Amendment. You’re welcome to challenge it on those grounds, though I’m guessing that even your own lawyer wouldn't answer that call. This decision is about protecting the public from a PR industry that’s gotten in bed with government and corporate clients who seek to exploit the public trust in news by spreading covert propaganda via our airwaves. There are time-tested rules on the books that already prohibit such abuse.
Simon claims to have no part in such PR "misdeeds" and seizes every opportunity to wash his hands of the "misleading behavior" of his colleagues: "We require in our contracts that clients agree to allow us to disclose the actual funding source of all VNRs that are sent to the media both on the tape and in media pitch alerts," he states in the company release.
While D S Simon ducks behind our First Amendment to toss stones at fellow flacks, his company makes clear that D S Simon Productions is a part of the PR deception that he condemns. They disguise their VNRs as real news with the intent that they be passed off by newscasts as such. The company website states: "Our goal is to get your story aired. We not only transmit two satellite feeds of your story but also send broadcast quality tapes to stations to generate additional pick-up."
"Our strategy is to involve news decision-makers in the VNR process before scripts are written or any production dollars are spent." In November 2003 the company announced that it was working with Pathfire "to distribute video news releases, b-roll footage and other short-form content directly to newsroom desktops in broadcast newsrooms throughout the U.S."
So much for the great editorial firewall.
The company claims to produce more than 200 video press products in this fashion. I wonder whether any of these have been aired by their trusted friends in the news industry without full disclosure of their source. Let’s let the public decide.
Mr. Simon, in the interest of our free press, will you enlighten we the public by revealing the history of use or -- as the record might show -- abuse by newscasters of all D S Simon Productions VNRs?
We’re waiting on your reply.
SIDEBAR: The Doug and George Show
Simon closes his release with a jab at me and my colleagues at Free Press, characterizing as Orwellian our efforts to involve the public in the news process:
"It is ironic that an organization named 'Free Press' (which was listed in the footnotes of the FCC Notice) is contributing to having potential limits on press freedom," Simon states. "It seems like something from George Orwell."
This from a man who has built his livelihood upon the proliferation of corporate- and government-funded propaganda.
Had Simon taken a moment to thumb through any of Orwell’s great literature, he might come to appreciate the profound irony of his claim.