2004-03-19: American Society Of Journalists And Authors Condemn HHS' Use Of Fake Reporters In Videos

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.

  • A blank piece of paper is God's way of telling us how hard it is to be God.
    – Sidney Sheldon
  • A critic is a man who knows the way but can't drive the car.
    – Kenneth Tynan
  • A good many young writers make the mistake of enclosing a stamped, self–addressed envelope, big enough for the manuscript to come back in. This is too much of a temptation to the editor.
    – Ring Lardner
  • A young musician plays scales in his room and only bores his family. A beginning writer, on the other hand, sometimes has the misfortune of getting into print.
    – Marguerite Yourcenar
  • All the words I use in my stories can be found in the dictionary – it's just a matter of arranging them into the right sentences.
    – Somerset Maugham
  • Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost how it feels about dogs.
    – Christopher Hampton
  • Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.
    – Lawrence Kasdan
  • Copy from one, it's plagiarism; copy from two, it's research.
    –Wilson Mizner
  • Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them.
    – Flannery O'Connor
  • I just wrote a book, but don't go out and buy it yet, because I don't think it's finished yet.
    – Lawrence Welk
  • I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
    – Douglas Adams
  • I'm writing a book. I've got the page numbers done.
    – Stephen Wright
  • It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous.
    – Robert Benchley
  • It's a damn poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word.
    – Andrew Jackson
  • Most writers can write books faster than publishers can write checks.
    – Richard Curtis
  • No fathers or mothers think their own children ugly; and this self–deceit is yet stronger with respect to the offspring of the mind.
    – Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
  • There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
    –Somerset Maugham
  • Writing a novel is like paddling from Boston to London in a bathtub. Sometimes the damn tub sinks. It's a wonder that most of them don't.
    – Stephen King
  • Writing a novel is like spelunking. You kind of create the right path for yourself. But, boy, are there so many points at which you think, absolutely, I'm going down the wrong hole here.
    – Chang–rae Lee
  • Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.
    –Samuel Johnson