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Bush education ads eyed

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration has promoted its education law with a video that comes across as a news story but fails to make clear that the reporter involved was paid with taxpayer money.

The government used a similar approach this year in promoting the new Medicare law and drew a rebuke from the investigative arm of Congress, which found that the videos amounted to propaganda in violation of federal law.

The Education Department also has paid a private firm to provide rankings of newspaper coverage of the No Child Left Behind law, a centerpiece of the president's domestic agenda. The criteria include whether stories say President Bush and the Republican Party are strong on education.

The video and ratings documents emerged through a Freedom of Information Act request by People for the American Way, a liberal group that contends the department is spending public money on a political agenda. The group sought details on a $700,000 contract Ketchum received in 2003 from the Education Department.

One service the company provided was a video news release geared for television stations. The video includes a news story that features Education Secretary Rod Paige and promotes tutoring now offered under law.

The story ends with the voice of a woman saying, ''In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting."

It does not identify the government as the source of the report. It also fails to make clear the person purporting to be a reporter was someone hired for the promotional video.

Those are the same features -- including the voice of Karen Ryan -- that were prominent in videos the Health and Human Services Department used to promote the Medicare law and were judged covert propaganda by the Government Accountability Office in May.

The Education Department's video uses ''the same exact mode of operation," said Nancy Keenan, education policy director at People for the American Way. The video encourages students to take advantage of tutoring and says that families give the idea an ''A-plus."

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