Blurring the lines ever further between programming and advertising, ABC's The View recently agreed to turn eight shows into paid infomercials for Campbell's Soup.
Co-host Barbara Walters, one of ABC's most prominent news personalities, joined her colleagues in introducing pro-Campbell's themes into the talkshow's discussions, with Walters asking in one show, "Didn't we grow up...eating Campbell's Soup?" Her colleagues responded by breaking into a chorus of the "M'm! M'm! Good!" jingle. In addition to developing special soup segments, The View assured Campbell's that "hosts would try to weave a soup message into their regular on-air banter" (Wall Street Journal, 11/14/00).
Product placement on talkshows isn't new, but Disney-owned ABC may be breaking new ground in having one of the country's best-known journalists shill for soup. ABC claims this kind of shameless hucksterism is OK because The View is an entertainment show, and Walters is "able to wear many hats" (Wall Street Journal, 11/14/00).
The home of free-market proselytizer John Stossel (see http://www.fair.org/media-outlets/stossel.html), ABC has increasingly come under fire for the diminishing credibility of its news division.
Last March, ABC News suffered much embarrassment after assigning actor Leonardo DiCaprio to interview President Clinton about environmental issues. That same month, Diane Sawyer's interview of six-year-old Elian Gonzalez-- during which the journalist stood on her head in an effort to engage with the child-- was widely criticized as exploitative and irresponsible. Around the same time, Disney bought a stake in Pets.com and the company's sock-puppet mascot started appearing as a "guest" on Disney-owned media,including ABC News's Good Morning America and Nightline.
David Westin, president of ABC News, is known for having killed a piece by ABC reporter Brian Ross investigating pedophilia at a theme park owned by Disney, ABC's parent company. Westin also reportedly killed a story about the sweatshop factories producing ABC personality Kathie Lee Gifford's clothing line. One ABC producer says that the need to avoid news stories that might displease Disney "comes up all the time" because "no one here wants to piss off the bosses" (New Yorker, 8/14/00). Apparently, no one wants to offend the advertisers, either.
Daytime talkshows have occasionally featured hard-hitting consumer info in the past, and now play a significant role in the presidential elections as a prime spot for candidate interviews. Apparently, none of this deters Disney from turning The View into a program-length commercial.
ACTION: Please contact ABC News and insist that its journalists should not participate in talkshows that allow corporate sponsors to purchase their discussions, regardless of whether they are in the news or entertainment division.
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