Amid all the gloom and doom, maybe there is some hope.
That, at least, was John Stauber's reaction to the startling expose in the New York Times last Sunday about the Bush administration's widespread use of politically biased, taxpayer-funded video news releases that the nation's TV stations are routinely airing as news stories.
"In all, at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of TV news segments in the past four years," the Times reported, noting that the practice has long been common among major corporations.
"Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government's role in their production."
To be sure, the Bush administration is hardly the first to resort to propaganda, says Stauber, executive director of the Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy. In fact, the practice can be traced all the way back to Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who unleashed a massive propaganda campaign to help reverse public opinion about whether the United States should enter World War I.
But nobody would deny that Bush and his cohorts are in a league of their own, Stauber says.
"I think they learned all the tricks of the previous administrations, Democrat and Republican, and have taken it to a new level," he said Monday, shortly after being interviewed by Amy Goodman on her "Democracy Now!" radio show. "I mean, what is (Bush's chief political adviser) Karl Rove? He's essentially a genius at propaganda."
So how, you may ask, could Stauber suggest the situation is hopeful?
Because 10 years ago, Stauber and his colleague, Sheldon Rampton, co-authored a book ("Toxic Sludge Is Good for You") that documented the widespread use of fake TV news videos even then. The book was virtually ignored by the mainstream media.
So while it's taken all of a decade, Stauber says the Times' expose may be a sign that the media are finally opening their eyes and realizing the extent to which we're all being manipulated.
And coming as it does on the heels of earlier revelations that the Bush administration paid off several columnists to promote its policies just shows there's no limit to what the Bushites will do in their attempts to deceive the public, Stauber says.
"The Times article just confirms everything we've found, including the fact that when you actually go out and confront TV news producers and news directors on their use of video news releases, they'll deny it. And you don't know if they're lying or they're honestly ignorant, because now, as the article points out, this stuff is fed through the networks."
Question is, will the Times' expose be a turning point? Or, once the controversy dies down, will TV stations merely revert to their old habits?
"I think it could be either," Stauber says. "The New York Times is still the paper of record. And when they give something this much play, it has an impact.
"But it could be just a little blip and we're not going to see another major story about this for another decade. Certainly the TV media aren't going to go anywhere near this, because it's a story of the corruption of TV in particular."
However, Stauber says there are definite indications that the public's disgust with the Bush administration is growing. And he thinks there's an opportunity now - thanks in part to the Times article - to pressure Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to toughen and enforce laws against "covert propaganda" and demand that broadcasters "come clean with viewers about using government-produced news."
To that end, Stauber says his group has joined with the nonpartisan public interest group Free Press in an effort to gather 250,000 signatures on petitions aimed at stopping such deplorable tactics. (For more information, go to www.freepress.net.)
"Unless we act now," he says, "the White House will continue to act with impunity - taking advantage of understaffed and incautious local news operations to manipulate public opinion."
Stauber, by the way, says that he too is amazed that the Bush administration doesn't seem the least bit embarrassed by all the revelations of the last few months.
Then again, "at this point, who would they be accountable to?" he says with a laugh. "We haven't really seen a high level of accountability within the administration on a single issue.
"I mean, who's walked the plank on anything?"
© 2005 Capital Times