DID BUSH TEAM HIRE ACTORS TO PLAY TV REPORTERS? The General Accounting Office has revived an investigation into the spending of millions of dollars for advertising to promote the new Medicare law, including television news clips in which actors pose as TV journalists, the New York Timesreported today (Monday). The news clips, produced by the Department of Health and Human Services, end with the voice of a woman who says, "In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting." A similar clip was produced for Hispanic TV stations. The government also prepared copy that local newscasters may use as lead-ins for the segments. Kevin W. Keane, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, told the Times: "The use of video news releases is a common, routine practice." But Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, a Democrat, told the Times: "The distribution of these videos is a covert attempt to manipulate the press."


For the first time, Lisa Marie Presley has suggested that her marriage to Michael Jackson may have been hatched up to offset damage to Jackson's reputation after he settled a 1994 lawsuit brought by a boy who had accused him of sexual molestation. Presley, who married Jackson the same year, said in an interview on an Australian talk show today (Monday) that she soon realized after her marriage "that I was part of a machine." She said that she herself felt "powerless," even when "seeing things going on that I couldn't do anything about. And don't ask me what sort of things, because I'm not going to answer. But just stuff."


Comedian George Carlin, who notoriously listed "The Seven Words You Can't Say on Television" in a comedy album that eventually became the centerpiece of a Supreme Court battle when it was played by a New York listener-supported radio station, has pointed the finger at "religious superstition" as the cause for the current uproar over Janet Jackson's breast-baring during her Super Bowl performance. In an interview with the Associated Press over the weekend, Carlin said: "There's an idea that the human body is somehow evil and bad and there are parts of it that are especially evil and bad, and we should be ashamed. ... It's reflected in these prohibitions and these taboos that we have." Carlin maintained that TV executives and advertisers feel that they must satisfy those who hold such beliefs or risk offending potential customers. "And yet, they're very inconsistent. On that Super Bowl broadcast of Janet Jackson's there was also a commercial about a 4-hour erection. A lot of people were saying about Janet Jackson, 'How do I explain to my kids? We're a little family, we watched it together ...' And, well, what did you say about the other thing?"


CBS said over the weekend that Andy Rooney's Feb. 22 commentary in which he called Mel Gibson and Pat Robertson "wackos" attracted more than 30,000 letters and email messages, a record number. Rooney read some of the hate mail during his 60 Minutessegment Sunday night, including one in which the writer called him an "asinine, bottom-dwelling, numb-skulled, low-life, slimy, sickening, gutless, spineless, ignorant, pot-licking, cowardly pathetic little weasel." Rooney responded: "Well, thanks, Mr. Gardner, but say what you really think. Do you like me or don't you?" Many of the letter writers referred to his age (he is 85), including one from Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly, who said that he thought Rooney "is at the end of the road." Rooney replied: "That wasn't nice, Bill. I didn't get old on purpose, it just happened. If you're lucky, it could happen to you."


Britain's ITV, along with the London Daily Mirror, has paid Jamal Udeen, one of the five recently released Guantánamo detainees, $108,000 for an exclusive interview, according to Britain's Guardiannewspaper. The interview, conducted by Martin Bashir, who famously interviewed Princess Diana and Michael Jackson, began airing in Britain on Friday. Daily Mirroreditor Piers Morgan told the Guardian that Udeen's "account of what it is like inside Guantánamo Bay is staggering. The way he was treated, the methods that were used by the Americans, the general dehumanization process. It is just amazing." However, a Pentagon spokeswoman described Udeen's allegations as "simply lies," while Secretary of State Colin Powell maintained that detainees were treated "in a very, very humanitarian way." Meanwhile, the London Daily Telegraphreported that four other detainees have also been offered six-figure sums for interviews about their treatment by the Americans.


Alastair Campbell, British Prime Minister Tony Blair's former chief spokesman who was accused by the BBC of "sexing up" an intelligence report to make the case for war against Iraq, has been hired by Britain's Channel Five network to host an interview show, Britain's Guardiannewspaper reported today (Monday). In an apparent jab at the BBC, Campbell said that he had decided to accept an offer from the channel because of its "unstuffy, unpretentious" approach. PASSION SETS INDIE BOX OFFICE RECORD Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christheld on to the box office lead for the third straight weekend with an estimated $31.7 million in ticket sales, to put its sum to date at $264 million domestically and making it the highest-grossing independently produced film in history (putting it ahead of the previous record holder, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which raked in $241 million). During the past two weekends, analysts have underestimated grosses for Sunday screenings of Passion, and it could not be immediately determined whether they had adjusted their methodology for calculating this past Sunday's as a result. The Johnny Depp starrer Secret Windowdebuted in second place with about $19 million. However, the sequel to Frankie Muñiz's Agent Cody Banks, fell short of studio estimates with only $8 million to place fifth. And David Mamet's thriller Spartan, starring Val Kilmer, took in a sparer-than-spartan $2 million for tenth place. The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:1. The Passion of the Christ, $31.7 million; 2. Secret Window, $19 million; 3. Starsky & Hutch, $16 million; 4. Hidalgo, $11.7 million; 5.Agent Cody Banks: Destination London, $8 million; 6. 50 First Dates, $5.3 million; 7. Twisted, $3.1 million; 8. Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, $2.4 million; 9. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, $2.05 million; 10. Spartan, $2 million.


Several top Hollywood producers are predicting in interviews with the New York Times that the success of The Passion of the Christwill inspire a wave of bible-based movies. Veteran producer Peter Guber, the former chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, was quoted in the newspaper as saying, "Will there really be scriptural pictures -- Old Testament, New Testament? ... The answer seemingly is probably so." However, producer Michael Nozik (Quiz Show, Motorcycle Diaries) told the newspaper, "You can't deny when a movie makes that kind of money that the audience has spoken to the filmmaking community, but it's a frightening comment. ... I would not think of making a religious movie that speaks to this aspect of the audience." But conservative film critic Michael Medved wrote in USA Today: "For many years, some lonely dissenters (including this writer) have argued that leading studios could improve their bottom lines by ending their frequent bashing of Christian symbols and substance and launching new efforts to tap into the nation's resurgent religiosity. Gibson has put that theory into triumphal practice, and other idealistic movie moguls already have prepared to follow his lead."


The new CEO of Texas Instruments says that he plans a two-pronged effort to put his company's digital projectors in theaters across the country. Rich Templeton, who is due to take over the post on May 1, said in an interview with Bloomberg News that he has already begun pitching the projectors to such studios as Warner Bros. on the one hand and exhibitor AMC Entertainment on the other. "We will find the customers and give them what they want," Templeton said.


High quality DVDs of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ are "selling like hotcakes" in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the English-language Arab Newsreported today (Monday). The publication said that bootleg copies of the movie are being sold outside of supermarkets and out of the trunks of cars for about $8.00 apiece. One vendor said that he and his colleagues had underestimated the demand for the movie, largely because ordinarily subtitled movies don't sell well. (The film's dialogue is spoken in Aramaic ad Latin.) He indicated that the source for the bootlegs was the Far East via other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.


Following its commercial and critical success as a movie, The Lord of the Rings is about to be staged as a West End musical, the London Sunday Telegraphreported. According to the newspaper, the production will cost $14.5 million and combine all three episodes of the trilogy. "I have been in theater for 25 years, and I know the power of theater in telling epic stories," co-producer Kevin Wallace told the Sunday Telegraph. I believe that we will be able to make a version of The Lord of the Ringsthat will be a brilliant piece."