big bucks for fake news

According to a new report by the Government Accountability Office, the Bush administration, between 2003 and the second quarter of 2005, spent $1.6 billion on 343 contracts with public relations firms, ad agencies, media companies and individuals like Armstrong Williams, the “journalist” paid covertly to champion the President’s “No Child Left Behind” initiative in the op-ed pages of America. Here’s a clip from the Washington Post:

…Congressional Democrats asked the GAO to look into federal public relations contracts last spring at the height of the furor over government-sponsored prepackaged news and journalism-for-sale.

Armstrong Williams, the conservative commentator, had been unmasked as a paid administration promoter who received $186,000 from the Education Department to speak favorably about President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law in broadcast appearances.

Around the same time, a spat erupted between the GAO and the White House over whether the government’s practice of feeding TV stations prepackaged, ready-to-air news stories that touted administration policies (but did not disclose the government as the source) amounted to “covert propaganda.” The GAO said that it did. The administration disagreed, saying spreading information about federal programs is part of the agencies’ mission, and that the burden of disclosure falls on the TV stations…

I’m not sure if this $1.6 billion figure includes the millions that we’re paying papers in the Arab world to print pro-America propaganda, but I suspect this is just the domestic number. So, our real propaganda spending number is probably much higher… It’s not really that big of a deal though — we can always cut nutrition programs for the elderly to pay for it.

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