WASHINGTON — When President Bush was asked about commentators like Armstrong Williams, paid to praise administration programs and policies, he said, "There has to be a nice independent relationship between the White House and the press."
But journalists on the take aren't the half of it. The administration operates what can only be called its own TV production company, feeding complete news packages to television stations, which usually don't trouble to disclose the origin of their reports.
Thus, a report showing Iraqi-Americans jubilant over the fall of Baghdad, another praising airport security as "remarkable," and another showing the administration as determined to maintain open markets for American farmers were all commissioned by government departments, a fact that was not communicated to the viewing public.
The New York Times devoted more than two full pages to exposing phony news reports. Video news releases, you might call them, except that press releases are usually identifiable as to source. The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, has said the administration's practice may amount to improper "covert propaganda."
And how about the stations that run these government package reports on their news programs? The code of ethics of the Radio-Television News Directors Association says a station should "clearly disclose the origin of information and label all material provided by outsiders."
Mr. Bush was asked at a recent news conference about the video news release practice and replied that the packages are "within the law." He tossed the ball right back to the media, saying it would be helpful if local stations would disclose to viewers that they chose to use these reports.
And he added, "Evidently, in some cases, that is not the case."
Between the White House and the stations that act like Moscow television, there should be enough shame to go around.
• Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.