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Paying for Interviews

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club  September 16, 2011 08:50 AM

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How much should you spend on a good guest?

For plenty of "news" outlets, that question is neither shocking nor academic.

Take Jaycee Dugard, for example. Dugard, who was held by kidnappers for almost twenty years, received more than $100,000 from ABC for the right to broadcast video of her.

Not surprisingly, when Dugard had a choice of sitting down with NBC's Matt Lauer or ABC's Diane Sawyer, she went with ABC.

The Washington Post's Paul Farhi details the cutthroat, semi-ethical, and often completely preposterous world of morning bookers in a fascinating piece in The Washington Post.

As a Today producer tells Fahri: “It’s really the first person there who gets the exclusive, and that’s the prize. Either you’re aggressive and on top of it 24 hours a day, or you lose.”

Of course, the notion of paying for interviews is nothing new. I wrote about the phenomenon in June when ABC awarded Meagan Broussard - former Representative Anthony Weiner's phone buddy - north of $10,000 for a few poorly-shot photos and then, miraculously, secured the first network interview with her.

Slowly, though, the practice has become standard operating procedure for morning shows. Indeed, as Fahri points out, even guests who don't get cash generally land in a Manhattan hotel with a per-diem food budget (along, sometimes, with complimentary wine, flowers, and/or chocolates).

But networks can point to a long history of pay-to-play. In 1912, as Jeremy Peters has noted in the New York Times, the Times paid a Titanic survivor $1,000 to tell his tale.

The question now is whether viewers have any idea that the media is greasing guests' palms - and how money might affect what people say. It's a dangerous practice, and one that, I fear, will become more and more common mainstream on TV.


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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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