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Lights, Camera, Agenda

by Steve Young

Propaganda Creeps In On Little Cat Feet

'Guess Talk Radio's Lords of Loud don't shove enough Republican talking points down America's throat. But at least on radio we know where they're coming from. No, not from the loins of Goebbels. That would be...well, not physically possible.

When the GOP isn't busy keeping Terri Schiavo alive while pulling the feeding tube on states rights, President Bush and his creative public relations team have been putting out "video news releases" (VNRs) to push their policies and now, California's Governor Schwarzenegger has joined the coercion crew. Arnold is using state money to produce VNRs that cast an entirely favorable light on some of his most controversial policies. Arnold really is ready to become president.

But I say that those who are pestering the Schwartzenator on this one are just plain whiners, or worse, Democrats. They don't seem to understand that these videos that resemble local television news stories -- complete with a suggested introductory script for anchors to read and with no indication at all that these were produced by the advocates -- are just meant to educate. Educate those who may not be aware of their one-sided point of view and get confused when they hear both sides of an issue.

Democrats, who oppose most of the policy changes the videos are advocating, have denounced the videos as little more than taxpayer-funded propaganda and have asked Attorney General Bill Lockyer to intervene.

"I think there's a role for video news releases when they have legitimate purposes of education, but this goes from being an educational tool to a complete scam," said Democratic Assemblyman Paul Koretz.

Scam? Come on. We're not talking about some political hack just throwing crap on the screen. We're talking about a guy who knows himself around a camera and can draw blood from a stone. A horribly written stone. Remember, he got "Jingle All The Way" made.

And it's not even inappropriate. The Justice Department just gave its blessing to sending out VNRs without any acknowledgment of the government's role in their production. The only requirement is that the videos presented factual information about government programs.

"The prohibition does not apply where there is no advocacy of a particular viewpoint, and therefore it does not apply to the legitimate provision of information concerning the programs administered by an agency," according to the Justice Department memo. Doesn't matter that the memo conflicts with the opinion of the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, which said that video news releases amount to illegal "covert propaganda" when they don't make it plain that the government is behind the releases.

The point is to show no advocacy. Say I show you a video that looks like a real newscast and claims that shorter lunch breaks for workers saves the state, i.e. YOU, money. That's not necessarily advocacy. It's just showing you the truth. It doesn't matter that it might be only half the truth. You know. Just like talk radio.

So with the Justice Department's nod (and wink?) it would seem that the barn doors are now wide open for a deluge of other VNR's meant to sell the truth. At least the half that sells the goods.

Baseball VNR   A group of children with seeing-eye dogs surround Mark McGuire. The ever-sincere Bob Costas walks in front of them. "Many children today suffer from severe glaucoma and the prices of corrective lenses have soared like a Sammy Sosa round-tripper, becoming too expensive for many parents. In an effort to help out, Major League baseball is working hand in hand with the Players Association to allow players to get larger and larger so that they are easier to see...for the kids. Today, every 500-foot home run isn't as much an excessive contract and salary effort as much as a gift to a child who will no longer need squint." Costas tosses a baseball to the kids, hitting one in the head. Costas turns back toward camera. "Steroids. They're taking 'em for the kids."

Real Estate VNR   Peter Jennings walks slowly in past a grove of giant Sequoias. "Prices too high? Only if you're one of the doom and gloomers who can't see the great investment opportunity forests for the million- dollar two- bedroom trees. The seemingly higher housing prices are not actually high when you compare them to the seemingly high gas prices for gas guzzling cars. And statistics over the previous ten years show the number of fatal accidents in multi-million dollar homes far outdistance the number of fatalities in automobiles. And the traffic in the home, no matter what the price, doesn't even compare."

Insurance Company VNR   Katie Couric sits next to an elderly woman. "Yes, she's old. And yes, she is in need of expensive, life-giving drugs that may seem outside her present financial situation. She may even have a tough time paying atrocious credit card charges and penalties. But there is hope. That is why mandatory euthanasia makes real sense for the non-working poor. Not only will it cut unemployment rolls to record lows but it also takes the elderly out of the horrific cycle of pain and unaffordable medication. In addition, it creates a win-win for the social security crisis as less elderly and sick will mean a lock box that will be overflowing for the younger, more fit and attractive recipients. Insurance companies have already ramped up for the deluge of creative non-suicidal deaths have been adding revising life policy coverages to exclude those with outstanding bills. Less unemployment and more euthanasia, a formula for a better America."

Steve Young is political editor of National Lampoon and blogs at

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Albion Monitor March 18, 2005 (

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