Licensing Fees In Journalism: Crossing An Ethical Line? Networks Say No

06/13/2011 11:50 am ET | Updated Aug 13, 2011

ABC's Chris Cuomo admitted in an interview on CNN that his network paid one of the women in the Anthony Weiner scandal for photos, and he defended the practice of checkbook journalism.

In an interview on Sunday's "Reliable Sources," Cuomo, who is one of the hosts of "20/20," told Howard Kurtz that Megan Broussard, a woman who corresponded with Weiner, was paid $10-15,000 by ABC for photographs she sent to the embattled Congressman.

"Did that bother you?" Kurtz asked.

"No," Cuomo replied. "...The commercial exigencies of the business reaches to every aspect of reporting now."

He said that, as anchor of the show, it had been his decision to open the ABC checkbook.

"I could have said don't do it," he said. "I don't because it is the state of play right now. I wish it were not. I wish money was not in the game, but you know it's going to go somewhere else. You know someone else is going to pay for the same things."


Cuomo's interview came as so-called "licensing fees" that networks pay to people they interview have gained new public scrutiny. While paying for interviews is common in other countries, such as Britain, the practice is generally frowned upon in the U.S. American networks generally forbid directly paying for interviews; instead, they pay for documents, photos or videos. In one recent case, NBC News licensed video footage from a local school district, with the stipulation that the money be used to pay for the education of a girl it was trying to get on the "Today" show.

Of course, many see paying for licensing fees instead of interviews as a difference without a distinction. In interviews with the New York Times, Jim Bell and James Goldston, the executive producers of "Today" and "Good Morning America," respectively, defended the practice, though Bell accused "GMA" of inflating the market by regularly paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees.

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