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Society of Professional Journalists criticizes NBC for "checkbook journalism" in David Goldman coverage



David-goldman Watch NBC's Today show this morning and you saw another detailed report in a seemingly endless array of stories about New Jersey dad David Goldman, whose years-long quest to recover his son from a Brazilian stepdad has turned him into a cable TV news fixture.

What you won't see in all that detail, is a look at one of the perks the network provided Goldman as he finally secured custody of his son last week; a private jet, paid for by NBC to ferry Goldman and his son Sean from Brazil to America.

The network had interview footage with the father and video from the flight at a time whn Goldman wasn't talking to other media. Today's Meredith Vieira had an interview with Goldman, and this morning's show featured an interview with Goldman in New Jersey, with no mention of the network's part in facilitating the father and son duo's return to the states.

The Society of Professional Journalists released a statement Monday criticizing NBC's move, calling it and example of "checkbook journalism."

Davidgoldmanandsean SPJ's statement also said: "By making itself part of a breaking news story on which it was reporting — apparently to cash in on the exclusivity assured by its expensive gesture — NBC jeopardized its journalistic independence and credibility in its initial and subsequent reports....NBC's ability to report the story fairly has been compromised by its financial involvement."

The plane rental is just the latest evolution in the increasingly inventive ways news organizations have developed for compensating sought-after interview subjects without paying them directly.

Subjects are paid "licensing fees" for photographs or background material they provide, or are flown into New York for in-studio interviews, lodged at nice Manhattan hotels and given meals.

Bad as such arrangements are -- clearly providing compensation to people at the heart of big news stories for access to their information -- they also are not disclosed by the journalism outlets in their reports, giving consumers no way to judge the veracity of the information presented or the news outlet's involvement with the source.

That's why SPJ has suggested NBC come clean by describing its hand in securing the plane and any other perks for Goldman "and invite dialogue with the pulbic over journalistic conduct."

Judging by the Today show's own conduct so far, I'm not expecting to see those details in its deluge of Goldman coverage any time soon. See the Today show story below: 

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[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 3:04pm]


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