Media pay price for buying news
Call out the media police checkbook journalism in its seediest form is back. This time, the culprit is CBS, which has been found guilty of the biggest ethical breach since Jayson Blair's last byline. And ironically enough, it was a New York Times reporter who broke this latest story about big-media shenanigans.
In fact, the story behind the network's wooing of former POW Jessica Lynch is one more reason to look down on recent Federal Communications Commission decisions that will make media consolidations easier than ever.
In a move that was about as subtle as a Tonya Harding uppercut, CBS News Vice President Betsy West sent Lynch a letter dangling a variety of opportunities with Viacom, CBS' parent company. There were intimations about a TV movie and a book deal, as well as an MTV special (including a hosting gig). All of this, of course, was to follow Lynch's agreeing to work on a two-hour 'documentary' with CBS.
Let's remember this: Lynch saw her fellow soldiers dying during an ambush in Iraq. She remains hospitalized in Washington, D.C., recuperating from a head wound, a spinal injury and several bone fractures. Offering up a VJ gig on MTV is an affront to human decency and an insult to the memory of those who didn't survive that horrible day in March when they walked into a death trap.
I suppose CBS thought the MTV opportunity would make Lynch want to check out of the hospital early. The only thing missing from the CBS offer was a duffel bag stashed with $100 bills and the promise that Lynch could be the winning contestant on the next installment of 'Survivor.'
CBS may have gone to extremes, but the network wasn't out there alone. ABC's Diane Sawyer sent Lynch a locket with a picture of the Lynch family home inside; NBC's Katie Couric forwarded some history books. That's probably to be expected from the competitive world of the TV news divas, who have been known to use their personal charms and celebrity to nab the 'get,' trade jargon for an exclusive interview.
What makes the CBS action especially troubling is that it seems to be part of a growing trend to obtain news by using clout. In an attempt to land an interview, for instance, with Aron Ralston, the hiker who cut off his own arm to free himself when he was pinned under a boulder, '60 Minutes' reportedly offered to help Ralston get in touch with CBS Entertainment about movies and a book deal.
News, of course, should never be bought or sold. As soon as it is, newsmaker and news organizations are mired in expectations that have more to do with their cozy relationship than with objectivity.
But if the Viacoms of the world are allowed even encouraged to spread their tentacles, how can you up the ante beyond a chance to be on MTV? Your own video? Your own cable channel?