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Rep. Weiner and the Media

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club  June 7, 2011 09:04 AM

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Analyst Lisa Bloom - who has commentated on the legal troubles of everyone from Lindsay Lohan to Saddam Hussein - argues in a new book that America has been hijacked by tabloid news.

"What a Waste It’s Been to Lose Our Minds," she titles one of her chapters.

Not to mention our standards.

During this week's coverage of the Anthony Weiner scandal, we saw an almost-complete absence of news-gathering protocol - including, most disturbingly, the use of checkbook journalism.

At ABC, Chris Cuomo "licensed" a series of photographs from Meagan Broussard, a 26-year-old Texan with whom Weiner corresponded. The photos cost the network between $10,000 and $15,000 - according to mediabistro - and Cuomo landed a sit-down interview with Broussard.

(ABC was first, but Sean Hannity will talk to Broussard tonight - and she tells Hannity that Weiner's obsession with online relationships was immediately obvious to her.)

Like so much in this story, ABC's interview was insipid - Broussard wrote on Weiner's Facebook page that a speech was "hottttt," and Cuomo asked "Now, what does that mean?" - but the real take-away was that ABC had essentially paid Broussard for her time.

It was a tabloid approach - dangerous, because, when you pay for news, you're inclined to hear exactly what you want to hear.

ABC, of course, can avoid the pay-to-play allegation because they technically compensated Broussard for several pictures, but coughing up north of $10,000 for the shots is tremendously generous and might not have been proffered had Broussard not agreed to make herself generally available to ABC (she gave them email and phone records as well).

And even the network's acknowledgment of payment - which never mentions dollar figures - seems designed to obscure their intentions: "More than a dozen photos sent by Broussard to and a second account she believed was Weiner's were obtained and licensed from her by ABC News."

Of course, there have been lots of other sketchy aspects of the Weiner scandal - from the media's attention to Andrew Breitbart (who apparently led Broussard to ABC in the first place) to Eliot Spitzer's awkward take on a lawmaker with weird sexual peccadilloes.

Perhaps, to Lisa Bloom's chagrin, the embrace of truth and tabloid is, in fact, complete.

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About the author

Kara Miller is an Assistant Professor of English, specializing in journalism, at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. She also serves as a guest panelist on WGBH-TV's “Beat the Press” and contributes to 89.7 FM WGBH (NPR). More »

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