Stay tuned: The political fight over the Bush administration's prepackaged news stories has largely been on hiatus over the last few months, but it is far from over.
Last week, the Senate Commerce Committee approved a bill that would require federal agencies to disclose to viewers the origin of government-produced, ready-to-air videos that tout government policies but masquerade as independently reported stories.
The Government Accountability Office has criticized agencies for disseminating such videos, saying the government must reveal its role to avoid violating a federal ban on "covert propaganda." Administration officials disagree, saying the burden of disclosure falls on news organizations.
The brouhaha reached a peak in January when news broke that the Education Department had paid conservative commentator Armstrong Williams to help promote President Bush's No Child Left Behind law. Armstrong did not tell listeners about the arrangement. Bush said his administration would no longer put journalists on the payroll, but officials have not relented on the videos.
In April, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) amended an $82 billion Iraq war bill to prohibit spending tax dollars on video news releases "unless the story includes a clear notification within the text or audio" that the government produced it. That expired on Sept. 30. The bill passed by the Senate committee would make the restriction permanent. First, however, the full Senate and the House must pass the measure.
-- Christopher Lee