iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
John Joss

GET UPDATES FROM John Joss
 

Help Me Understand...

Posted: 01/18/12 02:10 PM ET

... how supposed news reporters can get away with being advertising spokespeople.

Lots of our local (San Francisco) radio people -- for example, sports reporters -- are touting television services and TVs as a way to get better results in the living room. They are being paid to sell to listeners in an area in which they are supposedly reporters. But how can we then believe them as reporters? Why should we respect them, since professional respect and credibility are the basis for their employment? Are their supposed 'reports' just more commercial messages? How can we tell?

My 'favorite' and most audible example in the mainstream media nationwide is 'Charlie,' with a major network. He has proved himself an excellent reporter and newsman over decades of work, rightly to be respected for his skills, exhibited both on radio and television in a long and illustrious career. Over the last few years he has also become an advertising spokesperson, touting the wares of corporations who pay him to mouth their marketing messages during his radio program. His radio broadcasts often lead with his mouthed advertising, and include his name in his promotion of products and services.

Well, 'Charlie,' I hate to have to tell you this, but you can't have it both ways. If your voice is being used to present news, and you insert (or, in some cases, lead with) an advertising message that you voice, you have debased your profession. There is a very crude word for this that I want to use but should not, but the reader knows exactly what you, 'Charlie,' have made of yourself, for money.

Your presumed attempt to inject credibility into a sales message -- credibility you gained by reporting and announcing hard news -- has become a fraud. See, 'Charlie,' if you shill, for money, how can we expect to believe your reporting? Is that reporting also paid for? Or shaded? Or compromised in any way at all? How are we to know? Too much of the news segment has blended with entertainment, or 'infotainment.' Say it isn't so? You can't.

It's hard for mere audience members to understand why you do this, 'Charlie.' If you were one of the media underclass -- badly paid for too much work over too long hours, your job constantly at risk, as so many are today, an endless uphill slog your only career path -- your need for the money, by working both sides of the game, might be understandable, even if less than forgivable.

But, 'Charlie,' you're part of the media elite. You anchor a network TV news program. You get daily stints on network radio (if you knocked off the doggerel, which is below cute, we'd be grateful). See, 'Charlie,' you don't need the money, already slathered all over you in an immense salary -- along with huge perks that include an expense account, limos when needed and the adulation of your peers.

So which will it be, 'Charlie?' God or Mammon? The God of hard news on which your professional reputation was built, or the Mammon of the shill? Integrity or main chance? You can't have it both ways. Or, in a more ordered world, you wouldn't be allowed to get away with it and no sane, ethical advertisers would expect you to and would separate their messages rigorously from your news.

The advertisers who are paying you large money to do this sort thing, and trading on your professional reputation, bear a small portion of the blame, but you, 'Charlie,' went along and descended into that lower ethical and moral state whose name must not be used here. In the final analysis, you are the real fraud and we, your audiences, are your victims.

I have not named 'Charlie,' specifically, but if you pay attention to the media you know who I mean.