Media reform groups call for prosecution of White House propaganda crimes

Free Press and Center for Media and Democracy pressure Congress and Justice Department to enforce laws against 'fake news'
Contact Info: 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Craig Aaron, Free Press, (202) 265-1490, x25 Diane Farsetta, CMD, (608) 260-9713

WASHINGTON -- Free Press and the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) today called on Congress and the Justice Department to prosecute government officials who violated federal laws by purchasing favorable news coverage for the president's policies.

Last week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) determined that the Bush administration broke the law when it used taxpayer dollars to disseminate "covert propaganda" in advance of the 2004 elections.

"This White House has a knack for evading prosecution," said Robert W. McChesney, president of Free Press. "The only way for justice to be served is for thousands to stand up and demand that charges stick against an administration that has set aside more than a quarter billion dollars to push propaganda on the public."

In a report released Sept. 30, the GAO found that the administration illegally used taxpayer dollars on covert propaganda, funneling money to commentator Armstrong Williams to tout Bush's education policies and hiring a public relations firm to produce video news releases (VNRs) and analyze media perceptions of the Republican Party. The investigation also dug up other instances of abuse, including a previously undisclosed case in which the Bush administration commissioned a newspaper article that praised the White House's role in promoting science education.

"For U.S. citizens to participate meaningfully in our democracy, they must know whether the news they receive is truly independent or the result of illegal, covert government propaganda," said CMD senior researcher Diane Farsetta. "What the GAO report documents is no less than an assault on the integrity of journalism and the democratic process."

Free Press and CMD will deliver thousands of letters to the leaders of the Judiciary and Appropriations committees as well as Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, calling for prosecution of those responsible for "these crimes to the fullest extent of the law."

Throughout the year, Free Press and CMD have mobilized citizens to put a stop to government propaganda. In April, the groups mobilized more than 45,000 concerned citizens to urge the FCC to launch an investigation into the widespread use of government-sponsored VNRs. 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.

The organizations will continue to exert public pressure for full disclosure of all White House publicity expenditures using taxpayer funds.

"Without popular dissent, an emboldened White House will continue to throw up obstacles to full disclosure," said Timothy Karr, campaign director of Free Press. "It is now up to the public to pressure our government to enforce the law and stop propaganda crimes."

For more information, visit www.freepress.net/propaganda.

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