Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Bush Administration Redefines Infomercials

I recently wrote a post about a slick George Pataki commercial supporting business in lower Manhattan. The ad was clear that it was paid for by the “I Love NY Business” campaign. New Yorkers are used to seeing “I(Heart)NY” everywhere; it has become the most ubiquitous government branding campaign in the country. We know our tax dollars are behind this marketing.

But the Bush administration has redefined the term ‘infomercial’. The US Department of Education paid commentator Armstrong Williams to promote the federal No Child Left Behind reform law on his syndicated talk show. The agreement called for Williams to ‘regularly comment on NCLB during his broadcasts’, and Education Secretary Rod Paige was a regular guest to tout the education program.

The show carried no disclaimer, no rolling credits in the end with George Bush listed as executive producer.

I really have no problem with government agencies using public funds to promote their services. Marketing is a logical process: make sure the customer is aware of the service and how to access and use it. It is perfectly appropriate for a media personality to interview a government official solely because that commentator believes strongly in a program.

But this was manipulative. Williams became a paid commentator, shilling for the government without attribution -- no different than Chuck Norris, George Foreman, and the litany of hosts that run in the wee hours of the morning. The education of our children should not be treated the same way that we treat hamburger cookers, kitchen rotisseries, fitness equipment, and ginsu knives.

We have heard hundreds of amazing accounts about the tsunami and its aftermath. It will be one of those markers on our generational calendar. Two stories have struck me the most.

One was of three survivors who walked nearly the full length of Sumatra, and saw no survivors. The story described the full devastation of whole towns and villages, the desolation that these three people encountered.

The second is an account of a Finn who traveled to Thailand in search of friends. Thailand is a popular vacation destination for Scandanavians; over 200 Finns were killed by the tsunami, and Sweden suffered even higher losses.

No comments: