Before last year’s Super Bowl, local television stations aired a story by Mike Morris describing plans for a new White House ad campaign on the dangers of drug abuse. Morris is not a journalist and his “report” was produced by the government, actions that constituted illegal “covert propaganda,” says the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The investigative arm of Congress this week scolded the Bush administration for distributing phony prepackaged news reports that include a “suggested live intro” for anchors to read, interviews with Washington officials, and a closing that mimics a typical broadcast news sign off.
Although television stations knew the materials were produced by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, there was nothing in the two-minute reports that would indicate to viewers that they came from the government or that Morris was working under contract for the government. In May, the GAO concluded that the Department of Health and Human Services violated two federal laws with similar fake news reports touting the administration’s new Medicare drug benefit. When that opinion was released, the drug control office decided to stop the practice, spokesman Thomas Riley said. In one report the announcer appears to be reporting on a news conference by drug control officials, when “in reality, they are just paid to say a script,” said a GAO official. “In essence, they’re actors.”