Accuracy in Media

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about “fake news.” Now we’re hearing about “fake reporters.” Exactly what is a “fake reporter?” According to news media across the country, after Jeff Gannon, no one exemplifies the term “phony reporter” more than Karen Ryan. Ryan had what some may term the misfortune of having been hired to narrate some video news releases produced by the Bush administration. When the GAO ruled that one part of a Medicare VNR was not labeled properly (as having been produced by the government) a media flurry followed about the propaganda being created by the nefarious Bush White House. The failure to label the segment properly was a violation of the prohibition against appropriating federal funds for the dissemination of propaganda, the GAO ruled. Sensational headlines followed, and many of the articles included loaded words. The target of many stories was Ryan herself.

A former journalist, Ryan had switched careers and gone into public relations in order to make a better living. She was contracted by the government to narrate the news release spots. Some of her spots allegedly wound up being broadcast in their entirety with no explanation to viewers that this was a government product. Because some Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) employees later told the GAO they intended for the spots to run in their entirety on the news, the GAO held them accountable for failing to inform viewers about the origin of the news clips, even as the GAO found that the VNR they were contained on was clearly labeled as having been produced by the government. The GAO also stated that anyone in the news industry receiving the VNR would’ve known the origin clearly. The law being what it is, though, the CMS was judged on whether the “intended audience” was informed.

While the Bush administration was raked over the coals in the media, Karen Ryan provided a face and a name to heap contempt upon. The Washington Post reported in 2004 that the Democrats “pounced” on the New York Times report that the Medicare VNR featured the voice of a woman saying “In Washington, I’m Karen Ryan reporting.”

The media failed to tell the public that the Clinton administration had produced the very same type of unlabeled prepackaged news segments, under the same department (HHS), on the same subject, (Medicare prescription drug benefit), also using a so-called “phony reporter.” We noted that the Medicare reports produced under the Clinton administration ended with the sign-off, “Lovell Brigham reporting.” With all that’s been written about Karen Ryan-much of it unfair, silly and just plain ugly-we wonder why no media was interested in telling us more about Lovell Brigham. Who is she? How did she wind up in Washington D.C. acting as a reporter on Clinton administration VNRs? Brigham was a political appointee.  She was serving as director of communications under Donna Shalala when she did her VNR-reporting work.

For a political appointee to be narrating video news releases (or doing the work of a “fictional” or “phony reporter” as the media would say) should be worse by media’s standards than a contracted public relations professional doing it. After all, the Clinton administration used taxpayer dollars to electronically track VNRs to find out how many news stations broadcasted them in whole or in part. So to use a political appointee as a reporter adds a new twist to the idea of TV news biased in favor of a political party.

Since media won’t tell you about Brigham and her background, we will. Lovell Brigham graduated from Texas Christian University in 1988. She had a promising job in public relations working at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, when she resigned to “prime Democratic party pumps at county fairs and chili dinners” according to her alma mater. The university reported Brigham spent that time greasing her own political machinery until 1998 when she landed “what she had set her sights on-a political appointment in Washington, D.C.”

Brigham spent her days then directing satellite feeds, taping interviews and “dealing with broadcast media in the heart of our nation’s capital.” That’s not hard to imagine. Lovell Brigham was an expert at VNRs and PR. Said Brigham, “You see what you are doing really makes an impact on the lives of others.” The perks of her job, Brigham said, were “invitations to White House events” and “Access to inner circles of government influence.”

“I can never forget that I am a presidential political appointee,” said Ms. Brigham, “Whether I’m on the job or not, I can never forget that.”

While we don’t begrudge Ms. Brigham’s right to try to influence media, we do wonder why media withheld this information from the public when they reported on the so-called Bush VNR scandal. With all the undue attention that was focused on Jeff Gannon because of his “softball questions,” lack of traditional journalism credentials, and connections to a Republican group, one wonders why media aren’t stirred to report on the Clinton use of a political appointee, Democratic party figure, and public relations professional as a reporter?

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