New York, March 19, 2004 -- The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) has joined 20 other journalism organizations-representing some 25,000 journalists -- in protesting the use of actors masquerading as journalists in White House-authorized videos produced to look and sound like news reports on controversial new drug benefits under Medicare.
"We call upon the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to end this unethical, deceptive, and deplorable practice immediately," says ASJA president Lisa Collier Cool. "Years ago, stethoscope-toting actors in white coats used to portray doctors in TV commercials for drugs. Now, government spin doctors have created infomercials with fake reporters to mislead the public."
On March 14, The New York Times reported that HHS paid actors to appear in videos touting the benefits of the new Medicaid law. Two videos end with a woman's voice saying "In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting". In another, intended for Hispanic viewers, an actor posing as a reporter named Alberto Garcia interviews a Bush administration official.
"This ill-conceived public relations campaign undermines trust in government," says Cool. "Viewers have a right to expect that when someone is identified as a reporter, they are hearing from a legitimate member of the press, not an actor."
Lawyers from the U.S. General Accounting Office reported to Congress last week that the videos were legal despite "notable omissions and other weaknesses". According to published reports, 40 stations have aired all or part of the videos 53 times.
Among the journalists' organizations that have protested the Medicare videos are the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Association of Health Care Journalists and the Committee of Concerned Journalists. Statements from AHCJ are online at http://www.ahcj.umn.edu/
ASJA, the nation's leading organization of non-fiction freelance writers was founded in 1948 and is made up of more than 1,000 members who have met the organization's exacting standards of professional achievement.