Charlie Rose is a correspondent for CBS News’s 60 Minutes II in addition to hosting his own talkshow on PBS. But those journalistic duties didn’t stop him from MCing this year’s Coca-Cola shareholders’ meeting. Held at New York City’s Madison Square Garden in New York, the star-studded extravaganza featured celebrities like Jon Bon Jovi and Muhammad Ali, along with songs and skits celebrating Coca-Cola’s profitability and ostensible commitment to community values.
Hosting the entire event, Rose sang Coke’s praises, gushing that “few companies are able to connect as completely with consumers” and declaring it a privilege to be associated with “the Coca-Cola family.”
According to Harry Shearer (KCRW‘s Le Show, 4/21/02), CBS confirmed that its news correspondents are forbidden to do commercials or product endorsements. But CBS told the Washington Post (4/23/02) that the network was “comfortable” with Rose’s activities.
For his part, Rose told the Post that he saw no ethics problem because he is not a full-time correspondent for CBS, and besides, he was only paid a “minimal” sum for his appearance. But Coca-Cola’s new agreement to become a leading underwriter of the Charlie Rose Show is far from minimal; the Post reported Coke will be funding the show “to the tune of six or possibly seven figures.”
Also no problem, according to Rose, who told the Post that “I would never do a story on 60 Minutes II about anybody who underwrites my PBS show.” But from an ethical standpoint, the idea that Rose will be avoiding stories about his sponsor is hardly reassuring.
In fact, the Coca-Cola meeting that Rose hosted was a news story in its own right. According to the New York Times (4/18/02), the meeting was being picketed by the Teamsters, which accuses Coke of allowing “the intimidation, torture and assassination of union workers who bottle its drinks.” The Teamsters charge that Coke was complicit in the murder of eight union leaders at bottling plants in Colombia over the last decade. But don’t look for Rose to be reporting or discussing anything like that–he’ll keep it inside the “family.”