NBC payment to news subject

Christopher Alleva
GE, parent of NBC may have a huge problem on its hands. Several weeks ago it was reported that NBC paid Larry Birkhead, the father of Anna Nicole Smith's child, upwards of $1 million. The reporting at the time was presented along the lines of "good for you Larry, now you have some money to pay your lawyers." There was not one mention of the ethical or legal issues that arise from payments like these. Unfortunately, for NBC this story has exploded back into the headlines. TMZ is now reporting that Birkhead is suing his attorney for stealing the NBC money.

I'm sure that NBC was hoping to bury the story, but it was reported Friday night by the cable nets. Their discussions centered mainly on the ethics of the lawyer accused of stealing the money.

At the risk of sounding intemperate, this smacks of massive fraud and deception by NBC. I searched the MSNBC website, home of the NBC news shows, to see if they disclosed this payment anywhere and came up empty handed. The search did yield 312 hits, mostly the contrived stories from the Today show and various MSNBC shows.

No matter how much NBC tries to disguise this payment, the fact is that NBC News paid sources and subjects money for their stories. Beyond that they staged it, going so far as to charter a jet for a scene of Larry leaving the Bahamas with his newly-won daughter. Judging from past history, this appears to be a common practice in broadcast and print journalism. Earlier this week Diana Sawyer (Nixon once called her "that smart blond") parachuted in and got the "exclusive" with the globetrotting TB patient. Did ABC pay for this story?

This is obviously very troubling. While the legal issues are rather murky, the ethical issues are crystal clear. NBC is paying sources and subjects money and failing to disclose this fact to the audience. In the wake of the 90s Clinton dot-com bubble there was a lot hand wringing, particularly at CNBC, over how much they played into the hype. This resulted in the networks adding boiler plate disclosures regarding conflicts show guests might have in recommending various stocks. Why are these disclosures required but none for the Larry Birkhead payment?

Coincidentally or not, the Larry Birkhead payment came out at roughly the same time as the Don Imus spectacle. The final chapter of this story ended with NBC President Steve Cappes piously pulling Imus off the air. NBC portrayed Cappes as a thoughtful television executive agonizing over this tough decision. Near as I can tell, it was his meeting with weatherman Al Roker that persuaded him to throw Imus under the bus.

So Cappes has plenty of experience playing charades. Perhaps this will be useful when he has to explain this inconvenient truth if and when NBC comes clean on this latest scandal.
GE, parent of NBC may have a huge problem on its hands. Several weeks ago it was reported that NBC paid Larry Birkhead, the father of Anna Nicole Smith's child, upwards of $1 million. The reporting at the time was presented along the lines of "good for you Larry, now you have some money to pay your lawyers." There was not one mention of the ethical or legal issues that arise from payments like these. Unfortunately, for NBC this story has exploded back into the headlines. TMZ is now reporting that Birkhead is suing his attorney for stealing the NBC money.

I'm sure that NBC was hoping to bury the story, but it was reported Friday night by the cable nets. Their discussions centered mainly on the ethics of the lawyer accused of stealing the money.

At the risk of sounding intemperate, this smacks of massive fraud and deception by NBC. I searched the MSNBC website, home of the NBC news shows, to see if they disclosed this payment anywhere and came up empty handed. The search did yield 312 hits, mostly the contrived stories from the Today show and various MSNBC shows.

No matter how much NBC tries to disguise this payment, the fact is that NBC News paid sources and subjects money for their stories. Beyond that they staged it, going so far as to charter a jet for a scene of Larry leaving the Bahamas with his newly-won daughter. Judging from past history, this appears to be a common practice in broadcast and print journalism. Earlier this week Diana Sawyer (Nixon once called her "that smart blond") parachuted in and got the "exclusive" with the globetrotting TB patient. Did ABC pay for this story?

This is obviously very troubling. While the legal issues are rather murky, the ethical issues are crystal clear. NBC is paying sources and subjects money and failing to disclose this fact to the audience. In the wake of the 90s Clinton dot-com bubble there was a lot hand wringing, particularly at CNBC, over how much they played into the hype. This resulted in the networks adding boiler plate disclosures regarding conflicts show guests might have in recommending various stocks. Why are these disclosures required but none for the Larry Birkhead payment?

Coincidentally or not, the Larry Birkhead payment came out at roughly the same time as the Don Imus spectacle. The final chapter of this story ended with NBC President Steve Cappes piously pulling Imus off the air. NBC portrayed Cappes as a thoughtful television executive agonizing over this tough decision. Near as I can tell, it was his meeting with weatherman Al Roker that persuaded him to throw Imus under the bus.

So Cappes has plenty of experience playing charades. Perhaps this will be useful when he has to explain this inconvenient truth if and when NBC comes clean on this latest scandal.