The Mix

Is there "good" fake news?

Should progressives steer clear of using unlabeled audio and video news releases?
On February 2 and 3, some 180 people attended the True Spin Conference in Denver, Colorado, billed as "a PR conference for progressives." The event was organized by Jason Salzman, who runs Cause Communications, a small Denver PR firm. At the conference, Diane Farsetta from the Madison-based PR Watch, insisted that progressives should not use video or audio news releases, unless they are labeled. Of course TV and radio stations desire these releases because they use them as "real" news. Farsetta says we must do better than just emulate the right's successful, but underhanded PR tactics. It's an interesting topic. Here's Farsetta's take:

In my presentation, I cautioned against progressive groups trying to replicate the U.S. political right's approach to communications (which David Brock detailed in "The Republican Noise Machine" and CMD's John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton addressed in "Banana Republicans"). While effective in the short term, many of these tactics undermine the integrity of news media and the quality of public debates -- both of which are integral to achieving progressive social change.

After describing recent examples of obviously deceptive tactics -- PR firms engaging in pay for play, creating "astroturf" groups, undermining legitimate opposition, and otherwise giving misleading impressions of their (usually corporate) clients -- I turned to fake news. Unfortunately, more progressive groups seem to be using audio news releases (ANRs) and video news releases (VNRs). For example, the U.S. Green Party issued several VNRs in response to Bush's State of the Union address this year.

According to academic studies, industry monitoring, and anecdotes from media personnel -- in fact, according to all accounts, with the exception of PR executives' Senate testimony -- television newsrooms airing VNRs rarely disclose their source to news audiences. I explained that, in order to honor the public's right to know where its "news" really comes from, CMD calls for mandated disclosure of all broadcast material provided by third parties.
Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.
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