Attacking the Messenger: PR Executive Reveals "Radical" CMD Agenda

As reported yesterday on the website "Lasar's Letter on the FCC," the president of the public relations firm KEF Media Associates took rather strong exception to the Center for Media and Democracy's 2006 Falsies Awards.

Groucho maskIn an email to the Republican members of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, Kevin Foley alleged that CMD is a "radically left wing anti-corporate group," and that we are, shockingly, "enjoying [our]selves." Instead of providing information or engaging in a rational debate, the email is quite literally a warning to "consider the source of the complaints" filed by CMD and Free Press with regard to video news releases, or VNRs.

As PR executives and our readers are well aware, VNRs are pre-packaged segments and additional video that mimic independent news reports while promoting their sponsors' products, services, public image and/or policy agenda. In 2006, CMD released two multimedia reports that documented how television stations across the United States routinely and covertly incorporate VNRs into newscasts. Of the 140 VNR broadcasts detailed in the reports, only two provided clear disclosure to news audiences. In response, the FCC opened an ongoing investigation.

As noted in our Falsies Awards announcement -- an excerpt of which is appended to Mr. Foley's email to the FCC -- the PR firms that make their living off of VNRs are none too happy with our reporting. Fifteen firms, including KEF Media Associates, formed the National Association of Broadcast Communicators. Together with their allies at the Radio-Television News Directors Association, this lobbying group has sought to smear CMD's research, wrap fake news in the First Amendment and halt the FCC investigation.

CMD judged such behavior to be truly remarkable, and our readers agreed. The VNR industry was the second highest vote-getter in our online Falsies survey; nearly 40 percent of the 1,204 survey respondents judged them to be 2006's most rampant polluters of the information environment. Accordingly, CMD awarded the National Association of Broadcast Communicators the coveted Silver Falsie. We'll assume that Mr. Foley won't be stopping by CMD's office to pick up the award.

Some may read into Mr. Foley's latest tirade the fear that increased broadcaster responsibility might decrease his firm's profitability, the hubris of an industry accustomed to infiltrating millions of Americans' news programming with impunity, or simply a total lack of humor. However, in the interest of full disclosure, CMD must reveal that Mr. Foley was able to intercept and decode the following top-secret communique between two of our guerrilla operatives in the field: (satire alert!)

Code name CHE: The imperialist capitalist dogs are running in terror from our recommendation that sponsored broadcast material be fully disclosed to news audiences!

Code name MAO: Yes, the entire free market system has been thrown off kilter. Long live Comrades [Democratic FCC Commissioners] Adelstein and Copps!

CHE: We are truly just weeks away from our free love and VNR labeling revolution.

MAO: With the added benefit that news audiences will no longer be able to see promotional videos for pharmaceuticals, automobiles or baking mixes -- without on-screen labels!

(evil laughter)

Speaking of full disclosure, in June 2006 Mr. Foley told CMD that KEF Media Associates would soon be posting their VNR offerings online for all to see. However, we can't seem to find that page on the KEF website. Can anyone show us where the firm's VNRs are posted?

In all seriousness, the increasingly ridiculous attacks on CMD suggest real desperation on behalf of the VNR industry. It's too bad that broadcast PR firms appear to be unwilling to acknowledge news audiences' right to know who seeks to influence them, and to work with the FCC and broadcasters to honor that right.