Friday, April 15, 2005

Fake News Flack Ducks Behind First Amendment

The Most Misquoted Man in Show Business
You know that the PR industry is in trouble when one of their own tries to take the moral high ground held by George Orwell. Such is the sad state of affairs at D S Simon Productions, the flacks who’ve built a business out of dressing up video news releases (VNRs) to look, sound and feel like real news.

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.


Ken Grandlund said...

Glad to have helped make a change by sending such a simple e-mail. If more would get involved in more aspects of government inanity, things could really change.

Francis Scalzi said...

Reqired reading for D S Simon ( and George W. Bush, who doesn't read anything except maybe bits of the Bible and inconsequential light "stuff"): George Orwell's "1984". Simon has his Orwell turned upside down. Orwellian NEWSPEAK is produced ONLY by the ruling regime. Its pronouncements are all lies, opposite in every respect from real truth and violently forced on the population as the ONLY TRUTH. The distinction between real truth and their lies is lost, so their version of reality is the only one. Opposition is dealt with by brain washing.

NEWS4A2, blood-sucking journalist said...

The interesting part of it is that while the FCC says tv will have to reveal which sources it uses, it has no say over print media or wire services. What makes this truly interesting is that the Associated Press called the government's video press releases "fake news," even though they were clearly marked that the government agencies produced them as video press releases.

One might wonder where the AP's use of the term "fake news" came from -- it came from the same Democratic funded advocacy group that mounted the campaign to stop the Swift Vets documentary last fall. But the AP didn't disclose that information.

Two hyperlinks for the AP story:

The hyperlink for the press release of the organization behind the movement:

Apparently speech is more free for some animals than others.

I would note the FCC announcement came in the form of a press release. And this report on your blog is the result of that press release and several others. Rail against the press release if you wish, but the press can't survive without them. What the public needs is to be able to understand the new process more and what part the press release plays in that process.

LiberalPride said...

Per last comment about press releases, print media and wire services:

It is all about source and attribution, my friend.

I personally like to know the source of whatever I'm reading or watching. Is the source spinning the truth for some personal/political/religious gain or are they trying to present the facts as completely and accurately as possible? In the print media and wire services they have mastheads or attribution headers that identify them as the source. I may not agree with all that is said, but at least someone has had the courage to accept accountability for what has been stated. Television stations and broadcast media also identify themselves in a similar way. The reporters for each news venue identify themselves as well. In other words, who is the reporting authority of record? But ultimately, all print and broadcast media are conduits, passing on information to the viewing and reading public.

And then there is "anonymous." I tend to be more observant and skeptical of anything attributed on air or in print to "anonymous." Often, though, one can tell by the way things are worded by "anonymous" what agenda "anonymous" has relative to whatever "facts" are being promoted or discussed.

I like things up-front. No jive. No spin. Which is why I literally can't watch Fox News because of all the jive-turkey spinning going on. How many years passed before people discovered that the Fox spinners get their daily Talking Points from the Republican War Room? During this time did they ever once attribute the source of what they present as fair and balanced "news"? NO!! Instead of being honest with their viewers, they hid that they were just repeating daily propaganda Talking Points from "anonymous." Betrayal? Yes. Betrayal of journalistic honor and integrity? Yes!! Betrayal of our democracy? YES!!!

I bring up Fox News in the context of this post for a reason. What Fox News has been doing surreptitiously for years is exactly the same sneak-attack on our news media by the Bush-controlled Executive Branch propaganda machine with their "faux" news releases.

Non-attributable news sources are not accountable and cannot be questioned, especially regarding the integrity of what they are reporting. In my humble view, anything that requires being done "on the sly" automatically sets off my "integrity alarm." Fox News has mastered the art of reporting "on the sly." So has the Bush administration.

But what about the accessories before and after the fact to this crime against the integrity of our Fourth Estate. The PR firms and the television stations are just as accountable for honestly divulging the source of their "news reporting." If they can't be honest with U.S. citizens then they cannot be trusted to defend our democracy from the forces of "on the sly" darkness trying to surreptitiously subvert our democracy.

Either the PR firms needed to police the news outlets, the news outlets needed to police the PR firms or both PR firms and news outlets needed to police the "news" reports being fed them from the Bush White House. "Anonymous," especially where someone is promoting a partisan political agenda, my friends, just doesn't cut it. Not in this democracy, it doesn't. And I don't give a damn which political party is pulling this anti-democratic stunt.

Our democracy will either survive because our government trusts us enough with the truth, so that we in turn can trust our duly-elected government...or our democracy will disappear from the annals of history because our government proved untrustworthy because some very evil people destroyed the "integrity" of our government.

So, actually, the recent revelatiions of major lapses in "integrity" in our news media are directly proportional to recent revelations of major lapses in "integrity" throughout our government branches in Washington D.C.. Gee, I wonder who the people are who are responsible for these major lapses in "integrity"? Are they being held accountable? One has to wonder how perverse and extreme these lapses in "integrity" must get before it dawns on average U.S. citizens how much in danger our democracy really is from this internal combination of power-hungry, anti-democratic political, corporate and religious corruption?

NEWS4A2, blood-sucking journalist said...

That's where the well-placed hyperlink comes in, doesn't it? Maybe the best thing about the 6th estate is the informed citizens will demand the hyperlink to the original source material when news reports are filed, forcing the reporter to cite the organization with the agenda behind the news.

How can the AP glaring call press releases "fake news?" It's so hypocritical. The AP couldn't survive without press releases. No doubt, that's why that AP report calling the federal video press releases "fake news" was unsigned. If I worked for the AP I wouldn't want my name on that partisan cheapshot either.

Agendas are fine. I have nothing against agendas. Some on my best friends have agendas -- employment, no crime, good schools. But I want to know who's spinning what and why, and I'm sure I'm not the only citizen and voter who feels this way. The government has as much right as anyone to try to explain the programs it seeks to create.