Progressive Writers Bloc

The Fake News

Uncle Bill Warner

The latest fad in the world of TV fantasy is fake news courtesy of the "VNR" (Video News Release). Just as commercials present only the point of view, of the sponsor, trying to get you to buy their products, many people are trying to sell you more important things, such as acceptance of bad ideas or even war. This used to be called "propaganda." We know that beer commercials are paid for by brewers, who have a special interest in our pocketbooks, if not our welfare. Consequently, they pay actors to imitate happy drunks, not out-of-control barfing buffoons. We know who pays for these VNRs and make we make allowances.

But what if your government, using your tax dollars to manipulate public opinion, was giving out free VNRs that were then uncritically used by your local trusted TV outlet which might not mention that they were paid-for covert propaganda? The General Accounting Office of Congress has determined that these VNRs are illegal, and that Federal Agencies should stop spending hundreds of millions supplying these to news media outlets. This "fake news" is all-too-often presented without identifying the source. That is like showing a happy beer party without mentioning it was paid for by Budweiser.

Hitler made good use of what is now known as the VNR with his slick films promoting Aryan superiority. It was presented as fact that Jews, Slavs, Gipsies, and people with dark skins were inferior. Opinion presented as fact. Faked up stories about Jews were fed regularly to their media. Pretty heavy- handed, right?

On one hand, we condemn the idea of a state-controlled press (including radio and mainly TV) in places like North Korea, but condone it here at home!

When the big post Prop. 13 budget cuts hit the public schools a number of years back, teachers, deprived of real educational films, often succumbed to using movies provided by industry which were in fact just commercials in the sheep's clothing. Kids came to believe that cutting down redwoods improved America, or that eating more cheese made you healthy. The trick is to get people to confuse opinion with fact, and if presented convincingly enough, it works.

George Orwell, writing in 1948 about 1984, clearly saw what the "Ministry of Truth" could do to control people's minds by feeding the only lies and half-truths. Now we have the Pentagon Channel, supplying all sorts of Army-chosen "news" from Iraq and Afghanistan available free on their website to every cable and satellite operator in the U.S. Is it too far-fetched to imagine a convincing actor posing as a news anchor showing you their footage of a happy Iraqi on the street thanking President Bush for sending our troops over to straighten his country out and forgetting to mention that this news item was paid for by the Pentagon? Many TV operators don't have the funding to check out the truth contained in all those VNRs, but they can at least be urged to identify the source.

In some cases, however, such as with Fox News (featured in the film, "Outfoxed") this deception appears to be welcomed and enforced from the top down within the news organization. Instead of citing sources, we Fox reporters often insert their own or the Fox management's opinions by inserting the words, "...some people say...", or just an VNR clip with no attribution whatsoever. Presentations of opinions which go against their official line are shamelessly manipulated or shouted down. The Fox motto should be changed to "We decide, not you."

One of the most egregious example of fake news was the item that helped get us into the first Gulf War. We all saw the emotional VNR of the anonymous sobbing 15 year old Kuwaiti girl, "Nasiyreh", who described how invading Iraqi troops had gone into a hospital where she was volunteering and yanked some 15 babies out of their incubators and had thrown them on the cold floor to die. It was presented as truth, and even the President (Bush Sr.) and several Congressmen referred to it in public speeches to drum up support for the war. By the time the news came out that the whole incident was a fake, produced by a US public relations firm with Kuwaiti money, we were at war. The "eye witness" to the atrocity just happened to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the US, and who was not even in Kuwait at the time.

Maybe it is time to demand that our news sources get the VNRs off the air, or at least label them for what they are and put them back with the beer commercials where they belong. The American public deserves no less.

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