In a scathing report issued on September 30, the Government Accountability Office’s investigators said the Bush Administration had broken the law by using taxpayer dollars to disseminate “covert propaganda” in the United States.
The case in question involves the buying of favorable news coverage of the White House’s education policies in the form of payments to conservative commentator Armstrong Williams and the hiring of a PR firm to analyze media perceptions of the Republican Party. (The GAO’s ruling should lead the mainstream media to broaden its investigation: What other reporters and media outlets are on the government’s payroll?)
But this is the tip of the proverbial iceberg. It’s now clear that the Bush Administration represents a broad threat to a free and fair media. The bribing of journalists to report “friendly” news has to be put in the context of a decades-long effort by the right and its corporate allies to undermine journalists’ ability to report fairly on power and its abuse–whether through consolidation, cutbacks in news budgets or by attaching the label “liberal bias” to even the most routine forms of news-gathering and reportage.
Up next in the scandals of Bush crony journalism: In early November, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s Inspector General is scheduled to release his report on former CPB chair Kenneth Tomlinson’s payments to a conservative consultant to rate the political leanings (and loyalties) of PBS guests. IG Kenneth Konz said last month that Tomlinson may have violated internal rules, and that his final report could recommend that Tomlinson be barred from serving as director. (Tomlinson recently stepped down as CPB’s Chair, to be replaced by Cheryl Halpern, a former GOP fundraiser and donor.)
At a charged Senate hearing last July, Tomlinson rebuffed questions about the $5 million in taxpayer and viewer-donated resources he’d devoted to a show starring the far-right ideologues of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. As Nation columnist Eric Alterman wrote in September 2004, “Short of turning the broadcast day over to Rush Limbaugh or Richard Mellon Scaife, it’s difficult to imagine a more calculated effort to undermine PBS’s intended mission of providing alternative programming than this subsidy to a wealthy, conservative corporation to produce yet another right-wing cable chat show.” (Kudos to groups like Free Press, Common Cause, FAIR, Media Matters and the Center for Digital Democracy for exposing CPB’s pressure on PBS to conform to right-wing editorial perspectives and calling for broad reform and transparency.)