If you saw a news report on your local television station, then later you learned the report had actually been written by the federal government and that the "reporter" actually was hired by the government to read the government-written script -- might that affect the report's credibility in your mind... and might it affect the credibility of your local TV station, as well?

Nonsense, you say, this isn't the Soviet Union, this is the Land of the Free, we don't allow government?scripted news in America!

No? Well, maybe you've seen some recent news reports touting the benefits of George W's new prescription drug law for Medicare patients. Some of the segments show Bush signing the law and getting a standing ovation from those watching. One shows a pharmacist explaining the program to an elderly customer. "It sounds like a good idea," says the customer. "A very good idea," responds the pharmacist. Talk about puff pieces!

In none of these is it mentioned that Bush's law is an exorbitantly-expensive program that will benefit the drug-company gougers more than senior citizens, or that the Bushites lied about the price tag in order to get congress to okay the program. That's because this news bite was produced and distributed to TV stations nationwide by Bush's own department of health and human services.

Your tax dollars at work! Lots of dollars. The agency will spend some $50 million this year on its advertising campaign to glorify the program.

These "news packages" are called VNRs -- video news releases -- and they've been used for some time by corporations. Our government is simply following the corporate lead, spoon feeding "news" to TV stations, which don't bother identifying the source of these packaged stories.

What we have here is the dangerous combo of government propaganda and journalistic fraud. To help stop this, call the Committee for Concerned Journalists: 202-293-7394.

"U.S. Videos, for TV News, Come Under Scrutiny," New York Times, March 15, 2004.