It is the kind of TV news coverage every president covets.
"Thank you, Bush. Thank you, U.S.A.," a jubilant Iraqi-American told a camera crew in Kansas City for a segment about reaction to the fall of Baghdad. A second report told of "another success" in the Bush administration's "drive to strengthen aviation security"; the reporter called it "one of the most remarkable campaigns in aviation history." A third segment, broadcast in January, described the administration's determination to open markets for American farmers.
To a viewer, each report looked like any other 90-second segment on the local news. In fact, the federal government produced all three. The report from Kansas City was made by the State Department. The "reporter" covering airport safety was actually a public relations professional working under a false name for the Transportation Security Administration. The farming segment was done by the Agriculture Department's office of communications.
Under the Bush administration, the federal government has aggressively used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged, ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies to auto insurance. In all, at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government's role in their production.
(By the way, as the article mentions, this was also going on during the Clinton administration. So my objection to this is bipartisan.)
The worst part isn't so much the administrations' sending out these "reports" (although that's bad enough). No, the worst part is the TV media's use of these things. How lazy and unethical do you have to be? Reading the article, I was amazed at how many stations actually ran these things.
I ran into a similar situation while I was the news director of a radio station in northern Illinois. The State of Illinois then, as now, provided ready made news reports for radio stations. These were produced and made available by the Illinois Information Service.
IIS provided several "news" stories a day that could be accessed and recorded by phone (this was the 1980s). Now you can get them online. As I recall, they really were pretty straight forward without a lot of political bias. I'm not sure if they are still that way today.
Anyway, I used to get the feeds from time to time when things were slow to see if I could grab some bit of audio from them (almost always a lawmaker or other state government official commenting on this or that) and try to build a story around it. I don't think I ever used a report in its entirety, but I don't remember for sure. Had I done so, it would have been with full attribution as to where it was coming from. Thinking back on it though, I'm not sure even that would have been the right thing to do.