Democracy Soup

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‘Morning Joe’ sells out a news program for coffee to win the Media Putz award

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Originally published on on June 11, 2009

“Morning Joe”


Commercials are flooding our TV shows. Not alongside them like in commercial breaks, but actually in the shows themselves. Product placements are designed to “get past the hype” or “break through the cloud of advertising.” They seem to be more designed to annoy us in practice, but selling out is the trend.

But when it comes to news shows, there are supposed to be boundaries of ethics and taste. But not on Morning Joe, “brewed by Starbucks.”

Yes, the MSNBC morning news program is now hawking Starbucks as part of its morning news(?) programming. The reported price tag on the deal is more than $10 million.

It would be difficult to imagine that Starbucks would pay $10 million just to have coffee cups visible on the set of the basic cable morning show. Sure enough, as part of the [wink] deal, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski gave a softball interview to founder and CEO Howard Schultz. But even that doesn’t buy $10 million worth of product placement.

As Jon Stewart and “The Daily Show” (above) pointed out last week, there was unofficial commercials scattered throughout the morning program. And unlike commercial breaks, Starbucks doesn’t have to compete with other commercials.

But “Morning Joe” is a news show. And even if you pretend that Joe Scarborough and Willie Geist are not “journalists,” Brzezinski is as is contributor and noted alleged plagiarist Mike Barnicle.

The Starbucks tie-ins aren’t limited to the hosts, Brzezinski is also involved, which violates every modern journalism standard.

MSNBC President Phil Griffin said “Morning Joe” would still cover Starbucks if warranted. “They understand that we have standards.”

But what isn’t clear is whether “Morning Joe” might not cover them on a questionable story or give them better treatment. Or even worse, the show could treat a competitor in a worse fashion, such as Dunkin’ Donuts, on a story.

This is why news shows avoid such conflicts, so they don’t have these ethical issues. This is why newspapers have walls between advertising and editorial, so conflicts don’t come up.

Clearly, this isn’t the first instance of a company infiltrating a news program. Many sources have noted the old-time Camel News Caravan from (ironically) NBC in the 1950s. And this isn’t even the first time we have taken on this disturbing trend, noting last year when a Las Vegas TV station had a deal with McDonald’s Iced Coffee.

When advertising is alongside news programming, there is the fear that advertisers could make an impact on the content, either with a specific product or an “understanding” that controversial topics being covered might get ads yanked from the program. Not to be sanctimonious, but BuzzFlash has no fear from advertisers about what it covers since the Web site doesn’t accept advertising.

If somehow — and this is a stretch — the news consumer were to get $10 million toward news investigations such as a 3-part series on health care or the homeless or whether “clean coal” is clean, then maybe there would be a silver lining. Since we know that isn’t coming, there is absolutely no merit to this deal.

Especially on the television side, we have seen a precipitous decline in standards and ethics in news programs. Local newscasts run “news” stories that tie-in to prime-time network programming that they run. Gaining back waning credibility won’t be accomplished by having ads for a product during a news program.

The major problem with TV news programs is there isn’t enough time for real news stories. If we are going to lose precious air time to commercials within the program, we lose more than time and news stories. We lose the opportunity to be a better informed society, unless of course, we are trying to learn more about corporate coffee chains.

For selling out your program, we award “Morning Joe” the Media Putz of the week award. No sponsorship required.


Written by democracysoup

June 11, 2009 at 6:00 am

Posted in media criticism, MSM

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