One more reason not to believe what you see on TV

Medicare: GAO Investigates HHS-Produced TV News Segments On Law
The General Accounting Office is investigating the legality of HHS [United States Department of Health and Human Services AKA the White House]-produced videos intended for broadcast on local television news programs in which actors were paid to pose as journalists “praising the benefits of the new Medicare law,” the New York Times reports. The videos, which have been broadcast in Oklahoma, Louisiana and other states, feature people who identify themselves as reporters and were paid to read government-prepared scripts, according to officials at Home Front Communications, which produced the videos. Several of the videos feature President Bush receiving a standing ovation as he signed the bill into law. One segment features an exchange between a pharmacist and a senior; the pharmacist says the new law “helps you better afford your medications,” and the senior says it “sounds like a good idea.” HHS also prepared introductions to the segments for news anchors. GAO officials last month discovered the HHS-produced television news segments while examining the legality of federally funded fliers and advertisements publicizing the Medicare law. While GAO determined the fliers and advertisements were legal despite “notable omissions and other weaknesses,” it is still investigating the prepared television news segments. Critics say the segments might mislead viewers because they conceal their source; federal law prohibits the use of federal funds for “publicity or propaganda purposes” not authorized by Congress, according to the Times. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said, “These materials are even more disturbing than the Medicaid flier and advertisements. The distribution of these videos is a covert attempt to manipulate the press.” However, HHS spokesperson Kevin Keane, said, “The use of video news releases is a common, routine practice in government and the private sector.” Government agencies have produced such videos “for years” on subjects such as teenage smoking and steroids, but the Medicare materials “wander into more controversial territory,” the Times reports (Pear, New York Times, 3/15).