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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