Posts Tagged ‘ABC’

NBC Owes Viewers Explanations About Trump Tape

Photo Illustration of NBC's Mobile Homepage 10/08/16

Photo Illustration of NBC’s Mobile Homepage 10/08/16

A tape released Friday sent the 2016 U.S. presidential election into chaos, and led to prominent Republicans calling for Donald Trump, the party’s nominee, to drop out of the race. The tape should also prompt a serious discussion about the editorial oversight of NBC News.

The tape, which was first published by The Washington Post, exposes a 2005 conversation between Trump and Billy Bush, who was then co-anchor of Access Hollywood – distributed by a subsidiary of NBCUniversal. Bush is now “co-host of the third hour of NBC News’ ‘TODAY,’ according to the show’s website.

Sources at NBC told CNN’s Brian Stelter that Access Hollywood and its news division were working on stories about the 2005 conversation before The Washington Post published its story. Since any news stories about the conversation from NBC would also severely harm one of the network’s stars, it’s important to remain skeptical about those reports.

Even if Stelter’s sources are correct, NBC should realize – at the very least – the cross pollination of talent between its subsidiaries is harming the reputation of the organization’s news division. At most, NBC News’ fundamental journalism mission has been usurped by the larger organization’s bottom line.

As someone who often speaks out when news organizations violated the basic ethical principles of journalism, I often choose not to write about violations involving TODAY or ABC’s Good Morning America. Those shows have a long history of cringe-worthy ethical violations, and cries of foul fall on deaf ears.

Remaining questions about the existence of the 2005 tape  point to more systemic issues at NBC, however. For example, why are NBC News employees colluding with Access Hollywood? Also, does NBC News know of any similar conversations caught on tape for other NBC programs, such as The Apprentice?

There are also legitimate questions surrounding Bush’s future role within NBC News. For example, will he be back Monday on TODAY? I don’t think bringing Bush back before the end of the 2016 election can be viewed as a responsible decision.

People who get their news from NBC deserve answers and explanations to these questions. They also deserve an assurance that NBC News will be independent from other divisions of the parent organization. Until then, I think it’s justifiable to remain skeptical about the editorial oversight of an organization that allows its entertainment and journalism arms to regularly intermingle at the expense of the American people.

Andrew M. Seaman is the chairperson of the Society’s ethics committee.

#Pointergate Revisited

(Updated on November 21, 2014 to include information from a statement made by the Society’s Minnesota Pro Chapter.)

On Tuesday night, I published a blog post about a report that aired last week on KSTP, the ABC affiliate in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area. The story became known as #pointergate on Twitter. On Thursday, the station aired a report defending the original story.

In the original report, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges is posing in a picture with an unidentified man flashing “known” gang signs, according to KSTP.

The new story is reported by Stephen Tellier, who is not the reporter of the original story – Jay Kolls.

“5 EYEWITNESS NEWS admits, and reported, that the poses struck by Hodges and Gordon appear to be playful — simple pointing — and it’s hard to understand why such a seemingly innocuous photo could be potentially dangerous,” Tellier writes on KSTP’s website. “But police say the mere existence of it could put the public, and possibly police, in danger.”

As I asked in my original post, if KSTP believes its sources that the picture can cause violence toward police and the public, why would the station continue to broadcast it across the Twin Cities?

The new report is somewhat more specific on the source who brought the photo to their attention. Tellier writes that it’s a “local law enforcement source — outside the Minneapolis Police Department.”

The report says KSTP has “taken the picture to eight active police officers with multiple agencies.” Those officers – along with a retired officer – all “strongly agreed the picture was problematic,” Tellier writes. Yet, none of the active police officers are named or appear on camera.

Additionally, Tellier reiterates that KSTP concealed the identity of the man posing with the mayor and the name of the community organization that put on the event, where the photo was taken, because he “nor the group were the focus of the story — Hodges was.”

Tellier writes that other organizations made the man the focus of the report, and “5 EYEWITNESS NEWS feels it necessary to provide additional context on his recent history.”

The report then launches into a detailed description of the man’s arrest record and pictures lifted from his Instagram account.

While the man’s identity has been made public since KSTP’s original report, the question remains: Why is his arrest record, court documents and personal pictures relevant to the story? The station already established in its first report that its sources say the man is not in a gang.

The fact that a person has a criminal history does not give journalists license to publish or broadcast that information across the Internet – unless appropriate. “Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort,” according to the Society’s Code. “Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.”

KSTP may say the man was not the focus of the first story, but the beginning of the original report includes a detailed description of the man’s court records.

Last Sunday, I sent Jay Kolls, the reporter of the original story, a list of questions. On Monday evening I resent those questions to him and the station’s news director, who is currently out of the office. I did not receive a response.

I can’t say what response I hoped to see from KSTP after its original report, but I know it wasn’t what the community received on Thursday.

In all likelihood, the Twin Cities will move on and #pointergate will fade to the pages of case studies. Stories like this tend to leave a stain, however. KSTP will be wearing it for a long while.



The Society’s Minnesota Pro Chapter and other local journalism groups released a statement on November 19 “expressing their concern and calling for KSTP to disavow the story.”

In addition to issuing its statement, the Minnesota Pro Chapter and other local journalism organizations “will host a public forum on the ethical issues raised by this story at Cowles Auditorium on the West Bank campus of the University of Minnesota — on Dec. 8, 2014 at 7 p.m.”

Yet again, ABC has disclosure problems

Maybe ABC is trying to improve — maybe — but it has miles to go.

In 2008, the network paid $200,000 to the family of Casey Anthony — accused of murdering her daughter — for “an extensive library of photos and home video for use by our broadcasts, platforms, affiliates and international partners.”

Not only is it highly questionable ethically to pay a source while covering her, ABC compounded the matter by keeping it quiet for two years and continuing to report on the case.

The SPJ Ethics Committee chastised ABC in March 2010, shortly after the payment was revealed during a court hearing.

ABC denied that the $200,000 was an enticement for Casey Anthony to talk to the network. “No use of the material was tied to any interview,” the network said in a statement.

When the SPJ Ethics Committee asked ABC spokeswoman Cathie Levine about the $200,000 payment, she reiterated that it was not for an interview. It was for licensing exclusive rights, which she said is a common practice for broadcast news organizations.

We responded: “The SPJ Ethics Committee says news organizations that pay sources, for whatever reason, while covering them inject themselves in those stories and develop an ‘ownership’ interest. The public can legitimately question a news organization’s credibility and doubt whether its reports are fair and accurate.”

In talking to us, Levine said ABC stood by its decision to pay Casey Anthony’s family $200,000, but conceded that the payment should have been mentioned as the network covered the story.

“We should have disclosed it to our audience,” she told us, promising that disclosure would become the policy from then on.

Fast forward to several days ago. ABC aired an exclusive interview with Casey Anthony’s parents, George and Cindy Anthony, on “Good Morning America” and, once again, didn’t mention the $200,000 payment.

After hearing about this from another Ethics Committee member, I e-mailed Levine to find out what happened to the new policy or if this latest failure was another oversight.

She replied: “We did interview George and Cindy Anthony on GMA – we haven’t licensed anything from either of them so there was nothing to disclose.”

Is ABC actually trying to claim that a $200,000 payment to Casey Anthony is in no way tied to an exclusive interview it scored with her parents? And that it couldn’t at least be perceived that way?

Perhaps it’s the Ethics Committee’s fault for not spelling it out crystally clear.

Forevermore, ANY reporting the network does on this story is inextricably tied to the $200,000 payment. ALL future reports should disclose that the network has a business relationship with the subject of the story.

Obviously, this isn’t where I detected a glimmer of possible improvement at ABC. It was something else Levine wrote in her last reply to me:

“The policy we discussed has not changed – in case you didn’t see 20/20 on Friday night, we made a disclosure in our interview with Melody Granadillo as we licensed material from her.”

Because I’m sometimes a scandal behind, I had to look up who Granadillo was. It turns out she’s a former girlfriend of Joran van der Sloot, who is suspected of murdering one woman and was questioned several years ago about the disappearance of another.

ABC’s story previewing its “20/20” report mentions that Granadillo kept mementos about van der Sloot and says: “Granadillo licensed a selection of these materials to ABC News.”

There it is: another weak ABC disclosure.

“Licensed”? Did ABC pay Granadillo? How much? What were the terms?

Why did the network feel the need to again breach basic journalism ethics?

And is it just a coincidence that ABC got an “exclusive interview” with Granadillo as part of the business transaction?

ABC isn’t alone in this charade of license payments and exclusive access. Other TV networks are using this same shell game of tortured logic to claim they don’t pay for interviews.

I look forward to the day when there’s real improvement.


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