Guest Post by The Carpetbagger:
It was a banner year for fake news in 2004, and not just because of the success of The Daily Show. For those willing to play fast and loose with the public trust and embrace fraud, there was a national television-viewing audience that could be misled. Some, but not all, of these sham artists have been held accountable for deceiving the public, but seeing who got away with the deception tells us a great deal about the nation's priorities. First up is the entertainment industry, which was embarrassed recently by a report that Sony Pictures Entertainment made up critical praise for some of its movies.
Sony Pictures Entertainment must pay $1.5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit accusing the studio of citing a fake critic in ads for several films. Moviegoers who saw the films Vertical Limit, A Knight's Tale, The Animal, Hollow Man or The Patriot during their original theater runs must file a claim to be eligible for a $5 per ticket reimbursement, lawyer Norman Blumenthal said Tuesday. He represented a group of filmgoers who sued Sony Pictures in 2001.
In this case, two California moviegoers bought tickets to see A Knight's Tale after seeing an ad that quoted "David Manning of the Ridgefield Press" calling star Heath Ledger "this year's hottest new star!" An add for The Animal quoted the same critic saying, "The producing team of Big Daddy has delivered another winner!" As it turns out, the Ridgefield Press, a small weekly newspaper in Connecticut, did not have a movie critic named David Manning. Sony had simply made up the ad copy and hoped the public wouldn't know the difference. When taken to court, Sony accepted the $1.5 million settlement to make the fiasco go away. Presumably, with the shame fresh in executives' minds, the studio will hesitate before doing this again.
Notice, however, how this contrasts with the executive branch of our federal government. The Bush administration, like Sony, has adopted a simple strategy to spin the public: create fake news and hope Americans don't notice. Indeed, the practice has become a staple of the administration's approach to public communications. During the debate over the Central American Free Trade Agreement, Bush's Department of Agriculture produced misleading video segments praising the legislation, repeating White House talking points, and challenging criticism offered by labor unions and other opponents. Bush officials did the same thing with the president's Medicare plan and his No Child Left Behind initiative...read on to continue!