Bush’s Wednesday Comments on Video News Releases

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By: E&P Staff

It has been widely reported that President Bush, at his Wednesday press conference, defended the federal government’s use of “video new releases” to TV stations, which are not currently labeled as government propaganda. Earlier, in the wake of the Armstrong Williams “payola pundits” scandal, the president had ruled out funding columnists to push the White House line. The New York Times reported Sunday that at least 20 government agencies have made and distributed hundreds of video new releases in the past four years, many of them broadcasted on local news programs without any mention of their source.

Bush’s remarks on Wednesday have been excerpted elsewhere, but here is the complete transcript:

Q: Mr. President, earlier this year you told us you had wanted your administration to cease and desist on payments to journalists to promote your agenda. You cited the need for ethical concerns and the need for a bright line between the press and the government.

Your administration continues to make the use of video news releases, which are prepackaged news stories sent to television stations, fully aware that some or many of these stations will air them without any disclaimer that they are produced by the government. The comptroller general of the United States this week said that raises ethical questions. Does it raise ethical questions about the use of government money to produce stories about the government that wind up being aired with no disclosure that they were produced by the government?

Bush: There is a Justice Department opinion that says these pieces are within the law so long as they’re based upon facts, not advocacy. And I expect our agencies to adhere to that ruling, to that Justice Department opinion.

This has been a long-standing practice of the federal government to use these types of videos. The Agricultural Department, as I understand it, has been using these videos for a long period of time. The Defense Department, other departments have been doing so. It’s important that they be based upon the guidelines set out by the Justice Department.

Now, I also — I think it would be helpful if local stations then disclosed to their viewers that this was based upon a factual report and they chose to use it. But evidently in some cases that’s not the case.

Q: But the administration could guarantee that’s happening by including that language in the prepackaged report?

Bush: You mean a disclosure, I’m George W. Bush and I approve…

Q: Well, some way to make sure it couldn’t air without the disclosure that you believe is so vital.

Bush: You know, Ken, I mean, there’s a procedure that we’re going to follow and the local stations ought to — since there’s a deep concern about that — ought to tell their viewers what they’re watching.

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