Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Spread The Word -- Pay For Play Is Not Reality TV

Just the other day, the New York Times ran a story by Anne Kornblut saying that David M. Walker, Chief of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), issued a widespread warning that Federal Agencies may not produce newscasts promoting administration policies without clearly stating that the government paid for the program. The government is doing something about it, and now it is time for corporate America to say, “No!” to sponsoring phony TV news broadcasts.

“Prepackaged news stories," Walker explained, "can be utilized without violating the law, so long as there is clear disclosure to the television viewing audience that this material was prepared by or in cooperation with the government department or agency."

Bravo, Mr. Walker for letting Americans know that twice in the last two years, agencies of the federal government have been caught distributing prepackaged television programs that used paid spokesmen acting as newscasters and, in violation of federal law, failed to disclose the administration's role in developing and financing them. What this means is that Federal Agencies produced a TV show that looked like a news program but was actually a pre-paid video news release that was distributed to stations across the country. The two cases referred to by the GAO concerned the new Medicare law and an anti-drug campaign by the Bush administration. Now who is going to police Corporate America?

More and more, PR agencies and the clients themselves are looking for a quick fix to their publicity programs by paying anywhere from $25,000 to $150,000 to be a part of a phony TV newscast or a bogus TV feature that will provide significant exposure to their products or services. These productions are not done by legit editorial people who get paid by the networks to have unbiased opinions but rather by video production houses that know how to mimic the real thing. Many times the video production studios will even hire the likes of Morley Safer or Michael Douglas to act as hosts of their shows... I often wonder if these notables realize that appearing in one of these fake programs could mean the kiss of death to their careers.

These practices have been around for years and the phone calls from the 561 area code -- where a lot of these corporate video production companies reside -- seem to be creeping up more and more. Every day I get a call from a 561 area code video production company telling me that one of my clients is being considered for a feature story on hot new products for a holiday gift-giving segments. I get a good laugh when they twist the words about being considered. Instead of just coming right out and saying that for X amount of money the product will get top billing, the production houses pretend that there is an editorial consideration.

Boy, are they slick. Their pitch almost sounds like the real thing. Very tempting. But this old war horse has seen it all and pre-paid programs are no substitution for the real thing. Shame on PR agencies who try to pass this off to clients as true editorial placements, and shame on corporations who are so desperate for editorial coverage that they will pay their way to try to fool the American public.

I am happy to report that the American viewing public gets the last laugh. Most of the pre-paid TV news and feature stories never see prime time no matter how much the video production companies swear they have major viewing audiences. Most of their programs run in the middle of the night, in cities no one has ever heard of -- or in a lot of cases they do not run at all. There is a happy side to this that could satisfy their egos: Sad sack corporations or desperate PR agencies can pretend that they received quality coverage because they are furnished with DVDs of the program, which they can show to shareholders and/or clients. All they have to say is, “Here is a copy of that program that I told you we were featured on.”

Spread the word: “It is not real!”

9 comments:

Jason said...

Well put Lois. It's about time somebody in the PR industry came out and said something!

Whitney said...

Case and point: James Guckert, the reporter from the crazy conservative Talon News who was able to obtain White House press credentials under the pseudonym Jeff Gannon. Talon is run by a Texas GOP activist who also runs GOPUSA, a Republican consulting group; articles that appeared in the paper also appeared as news releases on the GOPUSA web site. They quite literally made no distinction between investigative news and press releases. However, Talon calls itself, "Your source for unbiased news coverage and no-spin reporting." What a joke. There is no doubt in anyone's minds how biased "Gannon" truly was, especially with comments to President Bush in White House press conferences like, "You said you're going to reach out to these people -- how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?" He was referring to democrats.

Irony of ironies, The Daily Show was among the first media outlets to air these outrageous statements. The Daily Show calls itself, "The most trusted name in fake news." And funniest of all is that Maureen Dowd can't even get herself a White House press pass.

What has happened to this country?

RMSHERWIN said...

As with most of us here at dailyexaminer.com and grandconcourse.com, if we are not breaking news stories with Bob Plunkett on channel 12, we get our breaking news from Jon Stewart.
However, Ms. Whitman in her own inimitable way has provided a very very open and honest information sources for those of us in the media or related industries....something quite unusual for a media relation, public relations and marketing firm...

Robert said...

Yes, its getting harder and harder to know what is real news and what is not.

Isn't it also true that many newscasters and commentators are getting paid big $$$ by major brands for each and every time the commentator works the brand name into the newscast.

Just how much are news personalities on the take?

Dick K said...

Lois, I really appreciate your honesty. It's great to see this kind of integrity. I always assumed that these fake news stories were just part of the P.R. industry's "bag of tricks". You've finally put them in the proper perspective.

You may well have opened up a can of worms and I hope, for your sake, that this doesn't lead to a media backlash.

Your blogs are great. Keep them coming.

Anonymous said...

Its becoming 1984...

the only reality is what's created in the media...

Anonymous said...

It is good that you are doing this. Whatever happened to "truth in advertising.

Marion Baker

Whitney said...

There's an article about government-funded "reporting" and the Jeff Gannon scandal in the Talk of the Town section of this week's New Yorker.

See it here

Anonymous said...

Wondering if you know what the production company that used to be called WJMK Productions in Boca Raton is now called. They used to have Morely Safer as their host and now are using Mike Douglas of the old Mike Douglas Show to front their new program which they are trying to keep way off the radar.