ABC’s Chris Cuomo defends checkbook journalism: ‘It is the state of play right now’

During an interview with Howard Kurtz on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” Sunday morning, “20/20″ co-anchor Chris Cuomo defended paying Meagan Broussard for photos she sent Anthony Weiner, part of the sex scandal that has jeopardized the U.S. Representative’s job and led him to enter treatment.

Cuomo confirmed that ABC paid Broussard $10,000-15,000 for the photos, which aired as part of its exclusive interview with her last week. The practice of paying licensing fees to sources has become more common and remains ethically troubling as it creates an incentive and reward for dramatic information, made available to the news organization that will pay the most for it.

Cuomo said the payment did not bother him and he took responsibility for it.

“The commercial exigencies of the business reach into every aspect of reporting now … It is my decision. I’m the anchor of ’20/20.’ I could have said, ‘Don’t do it.’ I don’t because it is the state of play right now. I wish it were not. I wish money was not in the game. But you know, it’s going to go somewhere else. You know someone else is going to pay for the same things. The question becomes what you’re paying for. You’re paying for these photos, why? Because they are the key to the exchanges. And this became about photos. This became about things that had to be real. So I needed them. And that is the state of play, Howie, I wish it were not. You do too. But it is the state of play. And to say otherwise I think is false.”

This “state of play” defense argues that it’s justifiable to pay sources because the competition is paying them. By that logic, competitive advantage trumps ethics. And the value of paying for photos Broussard sent Weiner is suspect; anyone can send photos to a legislator, what matters to the public is how the legislator responds. In its story about Broussard, ABC noted that the network  had also been provided emails, Facebook messages and cell phone call logs that reflected exchanges between the two.

The New York Times reports that the competition Cuomo cites has amped up following the installation of a new news chief at ABC along with continued frustration over the “Today” show’s ratings dominance.

“That’s why ABC is spending so much money on this kind of thing,” said one longtime ABC News executive, who asked not to be identified commenting about the network’s other managers. Disputing that, ["Good Morning America" producer] Mr. Goldston said that the licensing was “happening less, and for smaller amounts of money.”

Cuomo is the brother of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the son of previous Governor Mario Cuomo.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan-Volzke/1104272346 Jonathan Volzke

    Your argument of jumping off a cliff is silly and childish.

    The real point here is that every source benefits in some way. By ego, by the feeling of doing the right thing, by using the media in a personal vendetta, and yes, some for money. That cash can come from the news outlet or from a book deal or TV show or something later.

    It’s funny that everyone is so fascinated with “pay” equating to cash, and not the other trappings, which are just as sinister, if not more so.

  • Anonymous

    Tim – Journalism is not unique. It’s a money-making venture with the side benefit that sometimes it informs the public (less so these days.)

     

  • Anonymous

    So Chris Cuomo asserts he must pay for news because if he doesn’t, the competition will, even though he wishes that was not the state of play.  If he dislikes that state as much as he claims, why not work to change it?  Let’s go in reverse, starting with Mr. Cuomo.  Maybe he says, I will not compromise my ethics to engage in checkbook journalism.  Maybe the next person says, ya know, he’s right, I also choose to not lower my journalistic standards.  Then the next person might say, I agree, this is not the way I was trained to pursue this profession.  If journalists begin to reverse the trend toward paying sources, maybe then the mainstream media can regain what little trust it has left.
    (And just because it’s capitalism doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all proper and good.  Journalism is a unique profession that cannot be compared to the automotive or home-building industry.  Taken to an unethical extreme, both capitalism and journalism will ultimately fail.

  • Anonymous

    So Chris Cuomo asserts he must pay for news because if he doesn’t, the competition will, even though he wishes that was not the state of play.  If he dislikes that state as much as he claims, why not work to change it?  Let’s go in reverse, starting with Mr. Cuomo.  Maybe he says, I will not compromise my ethics to engage in checkbook journalism.  Maybe the next person says, ya know, he’s right, I also choose to not lower my journalistic standards.  Then the next person might say, I agree, this is not the way I was trained to pursue this profession.  If journalists begin to reverse the trend toward paying sources, maybe then the mainstream media can regain what little trust it has left.
    (And just because it’s capitalism doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all proper and good.  Journalism is a unique profession that cannot be compared to the automotive or home-building industry.  Taken to an unethical extreme, both capitalism and journalism will ultimately fail.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Liz – I’m not sure if you were referring to my comment, but the reason to engage in checkpoint journalism is that it’s insane — and by the way, uniquely American — to think sources should give us information for free. If you can get it for free, sure, by all means, get it. But the only thing media orgs are doing is taking information from people, digesting it, spitting it out and charging people for it. Yes, there is overhead — people (and if you’re a newspaper) — paper and ink. Or it may be completely digital.

    Will paying sources for information only encourage? Probably, but that’s called capitalism, which is what media orgs are engaged in at the outset.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Liz-Birge/1133089783 Liz Birge

    So, everyone else is doing it so we’re going to do it too? That’s the defense for checkbook journalism?

  • Anonymous

    News outlets like ABC are for-profit, last I heard.

    So you want the raw materials of your business (information) for free? Does Ford get free sheet metal? A home builder get free lumber?

    You want it, you pay for it.

    ABC profited off those pictures. There’s no noble cause at work here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Berman/100000669729095 Dan Berman

    Totally wrong. Someone else will do it? If Brian Willlams jumps off a cliff wil you do that, too? There have have been “journalists” who pay for information. And they always try to justify it. In the end, their credibility is lost.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Carson/100000166073918 Paul Carson

    I now know to never trust anything from ABC’s news division again. When you pay for play, that means you throw credibility out the window in exchange for some “exclusive” that, in the big picture, is both meaningless and unreliable. Chris Cuomo ought to be removed from anything having to do with news, and ABC ought to be ashamed that it entrusted its judgment to someone with such a rotten ethical compass.

  • http://lubetkinsotherblog.blogspot.com PodcastSteve

    If this is the “state of play” at ABC News, then it’s a very sad state indeed. If the correspondents themselves no longer think it’s an ethical problem to pay people for stories, then we should be seeing more Pulitzers at the National Enquirer.

  • Anonymous

    They don’t call media “The Beast” for nuthin’. This incident, while regrettable for Weiner and his wife, is none of our business but that medialoid (mainstream media infected by tabloid journalism) made it so. Weiner lied, as we all would, to cover up his shame.  Who among us has never done anything to be ashamed of?
     
    My wise friend Judith says:  What Anthony Weiner did was no threat to national security. No environmental upheaval. Weiner is no role model, to be sure, but moral transgressions are not the exclusive province of any political party, profession, religion, race, gender, nationality, income level, social status or lifestyle. Our media bask in, exacerbate, and promote public humiliation for profit, entice us along for the ride, and we gleefully jump on board to enjoy the show. While we’re taken for a ride, the press waves the First Amendment in one hand to distract attention from its own questionable practices like deliberately suppressing vital facts that people need to make important decisions, manipulating public opinion, paying shoddy sources for information, repeating stories from tabloid gossip sites without fact checking, etc. Schwarzenegger, Edwards and now Weiner are just the latest lives reduced to junk food and fed to the crowd, bit by bit, like colored jellybeans. We gorge ourselves on others’ pain and move on–each time a little less humane than we were before. 
     
    I hope Mr. and Mrs. Weiner can work things out. It’s their problem, not ours. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.  In the meantime, medialoid is swirling the bowl.

  • Anonymous

    Cuomo told Kurtz that unlike his brother and father, he chose not to go into politics. But his evasive state-of-play excuses (the movie by the same name is a fictional account of a dirty pol and his over-the-line reporter buddy) sound like campaign drivel. To be clear, he didn’t pay for pictures, he paid Broussard, who presumably wouldn’t have done the interview without the check. ABC not only crossed the line to checkbook journalism, it thinks payola is defensible and without repercussions. But each time Diane Sawyer introduces a story hereon out, some will wounder how much her network paid for it and whether it bought the truth.

  • http://rightnetwork.com Van der Leun

    Well we could all criticize Cuomo, but it is best to remember in his case the old adage: “You can’t insult a whore.”

  • Anonymous

    Don’t know why my post showed up as “Guest.” It is my post.

  • Anonymous

    This is shameful and a disgrace. Mr. Cuomo should resign or ABC should terminate him immediately.

  • Guest

    This is disgraceful and shameful. Mr. Cuomo should either resign or be terminated by ABC immediately.