Bring Us The Heads of “Karen Ryan” and “Alberto Garcia”

Television stations in Oklahoma, Louisiana and other states have aired “news” segments about the recently enacted Medicare law, featuring “reporters” Karen Ryan and Alberto Garcia (in the Spanish language version). Unbeknownst to viewers, however, writes Robert Pear in today’s New York Times, the “news” was in fact a free videotape produced and directed by the federal government.

Not surprisingly, the stories were upbeat. The “reporters” praised the benefits of the controversial new Medicare law, and many of the videos featured President Bush receiving a standing ovation as he signed the law last December. The “reports” were nothing more than a free advertisement for the legislation, posing as news.

The Department of Health and Human Services described the tapes as “video news releases,” and kindly provided scripts for the station’s news anchors to read in advance of the film clip, creating a convenient “story package,” writes Pear.

That stuff may fly in Washington, but it sure doesn’t here at Campaign Desk. And for our money, the villains here aren’t the clever flacks at HHS — they’re supposed to be masters of deception. Nope, the dunce hats go to the local TV station editors willing to slap onto the air any video that drops in over the transom.

Campaign Desk wanted to know just who in the hinterlands is pushing this stuff upon viewers. Home Front Communications, which produced the tapes, directed all calls to HHS, which doesn’t seem to have a call-back capacity on its phones.

Thus, dear readers, we hereby recruit: You!

If anyone out there happened to see the Ryan/Garcia reports on your evening news, let us know. We’re ready to drop some dimes. You deserve better.

Susan Q. Stranahan and Zachary Roth

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.