Several of my far right fans have been looking for ways to discredit me. They seem annoyed by my incisive, witty, well researched and written columns and blogs unmasking conservative hypocrisy.
They think they found some dirt by dredging up the "fake news" label that was applied to my company and others in my industry back in 2006. (Actually, TV Guide ran a story about VNRs 26 years ago with the cover of the magazine screaming "Fake News" and the public collectively yawned).
Anyway, what took place six years ago is actually fairly interesting and not a little ironic for my conservative friends who may have voted for George W. Bush in 2004. For anybody who cares, here's the story:
Video news releases (VNRs) are the electronic equivalent of printed press releases that the MDJ and other print, Internet and radio media routinely use. They are supplied to television news stations at no cost and typically cover a wide range of innocuous, non-controversial subjects.
For example if a beverage company introduces a new brand, we will provide TV stations with videotape of the beverage coming off the packing line.
Sometimes we offer wedding tips from a web site specializing in brides, or we might feature an interview with a star athlete talking about his latest commercial endorsement.
TV stations are under no obligation to air VNRs, but may choose to do so if they feel the information they contain is useful to their audiences. If they do air the content, they almost always edit and attribute it.
The so-called "fake news" controversy began in 2005 after the Bush administration distributed VNRs touting its various initiatives. The Bush VNRs broke all the industry and FCC rules, presenting controversial information without any contrasting views. They were also narrated and offered as a two-minute "package" that some TV stations unwittingly aired.
Free Press and the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), a left wing, anti-corporation, anti-PR activist group, learned about one of these VNRs and complained to the Federal Communications Commission. As reported by Fox News in 2005:
"Media watchdogs decrying 'fake news' segments that are actually packages produced and distributed by the Bush administration to promote government programs are demanding the Federal Communications Commission take a stand against the practice.
"They are joined by some members of Congress and other groups who have asked the FCC to investigate whether the government and broadcasters are violating regulations by producing and airing what they say are deceptive public relations tools funded with taxpayer dollars.
"'It's essentially propaganda, it's so-called news that is promoting White House policies and is provided by the government and is not being labeled as such," said Josh Silver, a spokesman for Free Press, a watchdog group that recently helped to collect 40,000 signatures on a petition calling on the FCC, Congress and the broadcasters to "stop fake news.'"
In 2006, the CMD uped the ante, releasing a "report" condemning the use of all VNRs by TV stations. Much of what the CMD presented was either flat out wrong or deliberately distorted, but that didn't stop two FCC commissioners from siding with the CMD and speaking out before hearing the other side of the story.
I helped form and then lead an industry group, which hired a Washington attorney specializing in FCC matters. He reviewed the CMD report and agreed it was one-sided and seriously flawed from a legal standpoint. He sent a letter to the FCC chairman that included this:
"CMD, nevertheless, cites so-called VNR 'abuses' that have nothing to do with controversial or political matters and do not involve the alleged payment of money or other consideration to the broadcaster, including:
- the use of candy flavored lip gloss;
- the making of a Super Bowl advertisement;
- a shortage of qualified automobile technicians;
- Floral care tips; and, last but not least,
- the versatility of pancakes.
"On their face, these instances of VNR usage do not violate Commission rules nor longstanding Commission precedent -- yet CMD has publicly accused the stations at issue (and, by implication, the entire VNR industry) of serious and improper conduct detrimental to the public interest."
As happens so often in such things, the entire "fake news" fiasco died a natural death. Sorry conservative readers, but there's nothing to see here. Move along.