Downsized Reporters Turn to ‘Deceptive’ PR

Writing for CJR.org (6/16/09), Media Bloodhound blogger Brad Jacobson finds that “former CNN correspondent-turned-PR consultant Gene Randall’s video ‘report‘ for oil giant Chevron might be unprecedented for how it blurred the line between public relations and journalism,” but is still more worried that “the Randall/Chevron production raises not only ethical questions, but also the question of whether a surge of newly pink-slipped reporters might go, as one media critic put it, ‘over to the dark side,’ and how that might further muddy the line between news and corporate advocacy”:

As detailed in a recent New York Times article, when Chevron, America’s third-largest corporation, heard that 60 Minutes was preparing a report about the $27 billion lawsuit filed against it for allegedly contaminating the Ecuador region of the Amazon rain forest, Chevron hired former TV newsman Randall to craft a video from the corporation’s perspective, which was posted on YouTube and Chevron’s website three weeks before the 60 Minutes report aired on May 3.

60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley’s investigation presented multiple perspectives, while Randall’s included only Chevron officials and consultants. Everyone interviewed in Randall’s piece, in other words, was paid by Chevron, including Randall himself.

While “Randall’s video also clearly strives to resemble an authentic news report, employing classic stylistic TV news techniques, while never informing the viewer it’s a Chevron production,” what Jacobson considers “most deceptive” is that “Randall–looking like the consummate TV newsman–begins the video with the accompanying graphic ‘Gene Randall Reporting’ and concludes with the voiceover: ‘This is Gene Randall reporting.'”