WASHINGTON - February 14 - Free Press and the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) today delivered nearly 40,000 petitions to the Justice Department and Congress, calling for an investigation into illegal "covert propaganda" produced by the Bush administration.
The groups began collecting the petitions last fall after an investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Department of Education illegally funneled more than $240,000 to pundit Armstrong Williams to tout Bush's education policy before the 2004 elections. The petition calls on the administration "to fully disclose all administration expenditures for publicity" and to prosecute those responsible for illegal propaganda "to the fullest extent of the law."
Yesterday, House Democrats released a separate GAO report chronicling more than $1.6 billion spent by the Bush administration since 2003 on public relations and advertising at seven federal agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services.
"The American people are fed up with this administration's relentless attempts to manage and manipulate the news," said Timothy Karr, campaign director of Free Press. "The GAO report carefully itemizes this administration's preference for pre-packaged reporting at the expense of real news and information in a scheme to make U.S. taxpayers pay for their own deception."
At least three earlier GAO investigations had found that the Bush administration was producing "covert propaganda" at other agencies, including the Department of Health of Human Services and the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Yet the White House instructed all executive branch agencies to ignore the GAO's findings.
"The latest GAO report is a far cry from real accountability," said Diane Farsetta, senior researcher at the Center for Media and Democracy, a PR watchdog group. "Subcontractors such as the infamous Armstrong Williams are not listed, and there is no indication whether government-funded 'fake news,' such as video news releases, included disclosures. As the GAO has ruled repeatedly, VNRs that do not disclose their source to the audience constitute illegal covert propaganda."
Throughout the past year, Free Press and CMD have mobilized citizens to put a stop to government and corporate propaganda. In April 2005, the groups mobilized thousands of concerned citizens to urge the FCC to launch an investigation into the widespread use of government-sponsored video news releases. In response, the agency issued a public notice calling on all broadcasters and cable outlets to disclose the origin of VNRs used on their programs. Pressure from Free Press activists also launched an FCC investigation into whether Armstrong Williams' actions violated anti-payola regulations.
"Congress should immediately enact strict legislation that mandates full disclosure in government-produced VNRs and puts an end to covert propaganda," Karr said.
For more information, see www.freepress.net/propaganda and www.prwatch.org