Horiuchi: TV news turning to 'checkbook journalism'

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In this current TV-news-as-entertainment age, network news divisions are beginning to forget one of the key rules of journalism: Don't just avoid a conflict of interest, avoid the mere appearance of a conflict of interest.

When you don't follow that simple rule, viewers will always question your reporting. It's Journalism 101.

But after reading an Associated Press article by television writer David Bauder about recent ethical lapses by TV news divisions, I got angry thinking about why networks no longer follow that straightforward ethical policy.

The story profiled three separate incidents in recent months where interviewees either sought pay from or got paid by TV news divisions for exclusive interviews.

CNN and ABC each paid for the rights to a photo taken by Jasper Schuringa, the man who helped take down the suspected terrorist who tried to blow up the Detroit-bound airliner. That was the networks' veiled attempt to give him money for exclusive interviews.

Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the couple who crashed President Obama's state dinner, reportedly were seeking six figures from networks for their exclusive interview, something the couple later denied.

After their publicized custody battle, NBC offered to fly David Goldman and his son from Brazil on a chartered flight to get an exclusive interview for "Today." The network also interviewed them on the plane ride to the U.S., according to AP.

The move resulted in a swift condemnation from the Society of Professional Journalists.

An NBC News spokeswoman responded by saying, "Their going on the plane did not affect our coverage of the story or getting them booked at all."

Well, that's what you say, NBC, but that doesn't mean viewers will believe it. That's why news divisions must avoid not only an obvious conflict of interest, but the appearance that one may exist. Never leave doubt in the minds of the viewers.

In an era when television news has become more competitive and ratings hungry, checkbook journalism has sadly become a more attractive tool.

When the next hot story erupts and causes a media feeding frenzy, we should all begin to wonder about the veracity of the reporting if there's the claim of an exclusive interview.

Is the person at the center of the story telling the truth or just what the network wants? After all, that TV network might have paid a lot of money to get them to say the right things for the best ratings.