Saturday, January 08, 2005


Great discussion going on over at BuzzMachine in the aftermath of the Armstrong Williams "No Child Left Behind" payola story. Jeff, being a media insider, has a better understanding of the mechanics of how this all works. The issue, in my mind, is deception.

Rather than just turning it into a political or racial brouhaha, I think it's an opportunity to examine how deception is used today, particularly in marketing, and yes, politics. What are the ethics involved? Is a pundit's taking an undisclosed amount to espouse a certain position the same as a Hollywood producer accepting payment to have his movie character drive a certain car or drink a certain soda? Of course one is fiction, but the underlying issue is the same; we are purposely misled by someone who is paid for this deceit.

Jeff's focusing on government for the use of taxpayer money to fund this sort of activity is understandable. (He even has filed an FOIA request to the DOE), but Armstrong William's actions seem no more ethically challenged to me than the dozens of deceptions hatched in public relations/marketing offices every day. It's not just government out to deceive us. Why do we decry the Department of Education for a No Child Left Behind promotion, but applaud some word of mouth marketing company for its savviness? Both suck.

From my BuzzMachine comments:

"...I feel deceived by Maureen Dowd's use of ellipses to distort meanings and I feel deceived when politicians describe spending increases as cuts. Hell, I feel deceived by product placement in movies and TV. Armstrong's lack of disclosure seems as ethically wrong to me as Krugman's Enron omission.

Jon Stewart tried to make the point, albeit clumsily on the famous Crossfire takedown, calling "spin alley" "deception lane". Deception is celebrated as a peculiar 21sth century skill. Bloggers, it seems to me, have a unique role in exposing rather than exploiting it."


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