This article was originally published at Madison Independent Examiner. You can find a video there in which George W. Bush admits to planting fake news stories in the corporate media.
Many people have heard that the mainstream corporate media lies to people. But few know exactly how that is done. As long ago as 2006, a study by The Center for Media and Democracy's PR Watch in Madison publicized one technique -- video news releases (VNRs). While most VNRs are created by corporations with the intent of selling a product, the U.S. government uses them to sell its policies.
Dozens of television stations have been investigated for broadcasting VNRs produced by corporations or the U.S. government and passing them off as real news. The use of VNRs without full disclosure of the source is illegal and carries a fine from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Television newscasts, which remain the most popular news source for most people in the United States, frequently air VNRs without disclosure to viewers, without conducting their own reporting, and even without fact checking the claims made in the VNRs.
Many of the corporate reports, produced by drugs manufacturers such as Pfizer, focus on health issues and promote the manufacturer's product. Disclosure information regarding the source is sometimes removed when it is broadcast by the television channel, as was the case with Fox-owned stations in St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Miami and South Bend, IN.
Here's one example of a corporation using a VNR, as reported by TV News Lies:
NEWS ALERT: A man survived a jump from a plane this afternoon. He was not wearing a parachute and he credits his new Nike Plane Jumpers with cushioning his fall.
Now let's say that story is completely true. All the networks and printed media pick up the story. Front page, lead story. Well, what they forgot to tell you was that the plane was a 2 seater plane, and it was on the runway, stopped, and the jump was from 3 feet off the ground. Now the full story was available to all the media, but Fox News does not feel that those details are important.
That may be a great corporate plug for Nike, but it is nothing that is even close to the truth about what really happened in that event.
A bigger problem arises when the U.S. government uses VNRs to "sell" policies such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A classic example is a VNR put out by the state department about Jessica Lynch. It was the basis for a story published in the Washington Post, written by "journalists" Susan Schmidt and Vernon Loer (which has since been redacted once the truth came out):
Pfc. Jessica Lynch, rescued Tuesday from an Iraqi hospital, fought fiercely and shot several enemy soldiers after Iraqi forces ambushed the Army's 507th Ordnance Maintenance company, firing her weapon until she ran out of ammunition, U.S. officials said yesterday.
Lynch, 19, a supply clerk, continued firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die in fighting 11 days ago, one official said. The ambush took place after a 507th convoy took a wrong turn in the southern city of Nasiriyah.
"She was fighting to the death," the official said. "She did not want to be taken alive."
Great story, but the only problem is that none of it was true. The truth is, Lynch never fired a shot at Nasiriyah. Her rifle jammed during the attack. She suffered shattering injuries when a rocket-propelled grenade struck her Humvee, causing the vehicle to crash. But she was not shot or stabbed.
The "official" VNR narrative of Pat Tillman, a NFL football player who became an army ranger and was killed while deployed in Afghanistan, was also proven to be false.