Just As I Thought

The propaganda war

You know a line has been crossed when George Will turns his guns on… conservatives.

In communist East Berlin, one sign of the government’s swollen self-regard was the cluttering of public spaces with propaganda banners by which the government praised itself for providing socialism. In Washington today, the Education Department building is an advertisement for its occupants.

Eight entrances are framed by make-believe little red schoolhouses labeled “No Child Left Behind.” High on the building’s front are two other advertisements for that 2002 law: Large banners hector passersby to visit http://www.nochildleftbehind.gov.

This building-as-billboard is the workplace of those eager beavers who had this brainstorm: Let’s pay a million taxpayer dollars to a public relations firm to manufacture enthusiasm for the No Child Left Behind Act, including a $241,000 payment to columnist and television talk-show host Armstrong Williams for his praise of the legislation. The eager beavers are long on energy but short on judgment.

… When conservatives break with their principles, they seem to become casual about breaking the law, too. Last year the then-General Accounting Office accused the Department of Health and Human Services of illegal spending when it distributed fake “news” videos that were used by 40 local stations around the country. In them the many benefits of the new Medicare prescription drug entitlement were “reported” by a fake reporter whose actual status — an employee of an HHS subcontractor — was not revealed. The English version of these “video news releases” concluded, “In Washington, I’m Karen Ryan reporting.”

This scofflaw enterprise was an appropriate coda to the lawless making of this law. Republican leaders traduced House procedures by holding open the vote for three hours, giving them time to pressure sensibly reluctant legislators. And the Justice Department says the Bush administration broke no law when the Medicare program’s chief actuary was told he would be fired if he gave Congress his estimate that the program’s 10-year cost would be about a third more than the $400 billion the administration claimed.

The GAO has frequently had occasion to insist that taxpayers’ money cannot be used when the “obvious purpose is ‘self-aggrandizement’ or ‘puffery.’ ” Last week it had another occasion, chastising the Office of National Drug Control Policy for also disseminating fake news videos.

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