Government Blurring the Line on News?

ByABC News
March 16, 2005, 3:27 PM

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2005 — -- President Bush today defended his administration's use of video news releases packaged as news stories, which have been sent to local television stations across the country and sometimes broadcast with no indication they were made by the government.

A report, for example, about the president's controversial education bill -- which was presented as news on many local stations including those in Houston and Washington -- ended with the words: "This is a program that gets an 'A-plus.' In Washington, Karen Ryan reporting."

But Karen Ryan is not a reporter. She works in public relations and was hired by the Bush administration to voice the government-produced news stories.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office -- the investigative arm of Congress -- ruled last month at least two of the broadcast reports -- ones about Medicare and illegal narcotics -- were "covert propaganda" and illegal.

"It was not clear from the prepackaged news stories who the source of the information was," David Walker, comptroller general of the GAO, told ABC News. "It was pretty clear that these were intended to go directly to the viewing audience without any editing."

According to Walker, this creates both legal and ethical issues, "not only on behalf of the people who are putting these together, but frankly on behalf of the news organizations who are using them."

Bush said in a press conference today there is nothing wrong with releasing the videos, basing his argument on two administration memos uncovered this week, written by Steven G. Bradbury, principal deputy assistant attorney general, and Joshua B. Bolten, director of the Office of Management and Budget.

"There is a Justice Department opinion that says these pieces are OK so long as they're based upon facts, not advocacy," said Bush. "And I expect our agencies to adhere to that ruling."

But the GAO investigation found the prepackaged news stories did not always stick to the facts.