And the Band Played On

From today’s presidential press conference:

    QUESTION: 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.

    BUSH: And I expect our agencies to adhere to that ruling, to that Justice Department opinion.

    This has been a longstanding 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.

    BUSH: But evidently in some cases that’s not the case.

    QUESTION: But the administration could guarantee that’s happening by including that language in the pre-packaged report?

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


    QUESTION: 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.

In other words, we’ll continue to lie, and it’s your responsibility to catch us in the act. Which brings to mind some interesting words from another time:

    I am struck by the high level of arrogance that often exists among those who maintain that there is no truth except what they would have us believe. They redefine our words and our lives for us, and expect us to go along. They rewrite the past and are shocked when we object. And this arrogance is often combined with an amazing lack of thought to the consequences of what they are preaching. … Nor should we overlook the moral consequences of insisting that reality is nothing more than what we create. If history is only an invention, then we never have to admit to even the most grievous error; we can simply revise it out of existence. …

    The idea of responsibility – of being accountable for one’s actions – has no meaning in a world where there is neither truth nor reality, but only endless interpretation.

Lynne Cheney, Telling the Truth, 1995