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Correction to This Article
A Dec. 6 article about groups blurring the line between media and advocacy incorrectly identified Kathleen Hall Jamieson and misspelled her last name. She is the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
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Advocacy Groups Blur Media Lines

Neither Anderson nor Timpone see any need for the paper to disclose in its pages that the chamber is an owner. Timpone said the chamber doesn't dictate the paper's news content and he defends the stories he runs as genuine news. He said he chose not to divulge the Record's connection to the chamber in print because "I was afraid we'd be prejudged. I thought, 'Let people judge us by our actions.' "

At the same time, Anderson doesn't conceal his pleasure at the newspaper's obsession with reporting about the filing of seemingly frivolous class action and other lawsuits. The Record even maintains a running tally of class action filings on its front page. The Record "has a point of view," conceded Anderson, who keeps a framed copy of his editorial in the Record's inaugural edition on his office wall.


The U.S. Chamber of Commerce created the Madison County Record. (The Washington Post)

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Timpone admitted: "I'm a biased guy. I'm a Republican."

Depending on how well the Record performs, Anderson said, the chamber plans to launch similar newspapers in counties that the pro-business lobby considers to be problems, particularly in West Virginia.

The National Threat Initiative (NTI) is trying a different medium to get out its message: TV drama. With the MacArthur Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation, the three-year-old advocacy group co-founded by former senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) has bankrolled a one-hour movie tentatively titled "Out of the Barn." It stars former senator Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), a professional actor, as a U.S. president who confronts terrorists armed with a purloined nuclear device -- precisely the kind of scenario that the NTI pushes to prevent.

The program is fictional but was designed to open viewers' eyes to what the NTI sees as the very real danger posed by unsecured nuclear materials. An NTI official said it was Nunn's idea to make the cause more gripping by creating a drama. The show was written and directed by Ben Goddard, the media consultant who pioneered the use of commercials as a lobbying tool with "Harry and Louise." His groundbreaking TV ads were instrumental in killing President Bill Clinton's health care plan in 1994.

Long-form dramas that promote real-life issues, Goddard said, could well become the next rage in TV lobbying. "Out of the Barn," he said, is "my new Harry and Louise." NTI is negotiating with a cable network to run the program early next year, Goddard said.

At the moment, the film notes briefly in its credits that it was paid for by NTI and the foundations. However, the network that might air the show is considering adding interviews with Nunn and other NTI supporters, Goddard said. Another version of the show to be distributed free and through video stores will also include conversations with Nunn and Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), who is on NTI's board.

On the Internet, Congress.org has been attracting a growing number of people who care about government and politics. This year it drew 169,000 page views a day on average, up from just 62,000 last year, according to Mark West, a senior vice president of Fairfax-based Capitol Advantage LLC, which runs the Web site. The site offers information about legislation, lawmakers and the White House. Readers can also use Congress.org to e-mail federal, state and local elected officials.

At the same time, the Web site subtly provides a forum for Capitol Advantage's hundreds of lobbying clients, which range from AARP, the senior citizens' lobby, to the American Bankers Association. Under the heading "Issues and Action," readers can click on topics ranging from agriculture to women's issues. They then see a long list of action alerts written by lobbying groups and designed to persuade voters to contact government officials.

The site was established as a public service, West said. But it also "is a way of allowing advocacy groups to reach a broader audience than they'd otherwise be able to reach." It apparently has worked. The "alerts" were read more than half a million times this year, West said.

Another consultant wants to lure an even larger audience. District-based Issue Dynamics Inc. (IDI) recently formed Policy.net, which bills itself as "your one source for political and public policy news." As a come-on to general-interest readers, the site carries news articles as well as "action alerts." IDI President Samuel A. Simon calls Policy.net a combination "promotion-public service" because "it can benefit a lot of people and, obviously, there's commercial interest for us."

The National Rifle Association believes more lobbying groups will mimic traditional media formats or buy them outright to disseminate their viewpoints. If the NRA buys radio stations it won't bother to label them with its name. "We wouldn't need to any more than NBC needs a disclaimer that it's General Electric-produced or than ABC needs a disclaimer saying it's Disney-produced," said Wayne LaPierre Jr., the NRA's executive director.

"I hope everybody gets into the media business and, I think, many interest groups will," LaPierre said. "We have as much right to be at the table delivering news and information to the American public as anyone else does."


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