Remember David Manning, the critic who was actually a fictional invention by Columbia Pictures, who gave thumbs-up style quotables to crappy movies? Now it seems the Bush Administration has borrowed from the film industry’s dubious standard of ethics. As the New York Times reported in an extensive article “Under Bush, A New Age of Prepackaged Television”, government-made news segments — airing on major network news program all across the country — constitute “covert propaganda,” shilling for Administration policies without proper attribution.
While this might sound shocking to most Americans, for those in the film industry it should sound as business-as-usual. A New York indie film publicist recently told me how suprised he was when reading of Frank Rich’s gripes about fake news reporters; this is how it’s always been done, he suggested. What’s the big deal?
What is Entertainment Tonight or Access Hollywood, but covert propaganda for the studios? In your average issue of Entertainment Weekly, how many pages are devoted to PR fluff fed to the magazine by studio flaks and personal publicists, and how much do they actually develop on their own? What is the celebrity interview — that mainstay of entertainment journalism — but a prepackaged, preapproved, studio-sanctioned flab of writing–one that must flatter their product, both the cult of personality and the movie they’re peddling.
In an age where news and entertainnment are increasingly blurred, where whatever truths exist are more effectively replaced by lies, the Bush Administration’s borrowing from the Hollywood playbook seems just about right. What is surprising is that Hollywood and the U.S. goverment talk about each other like they’re enemies, when in fact, they’re strong allies: pushing illusion and make-believe on the citizens of the world.