Sarkozy Gets Trimmed

The International Herald Tribune recently reported that Paris Match, a magazine owned by a friend of French President Sarkozy, used a computer program to remove the "love handles" of the apparently overweight French president in a photograph of his paddling a canoe during a recent vacation in the U. S. The president has cultivated a dynamic image of himself, and often appears in the press cycling or jogging. The photo treatment came a few months after Sarkozy was accused of causing the firing of a Paris Match editor for publishing a photograph of Sarkozy's wife with an alleged lover. The new French president has made no secret of his warm relations with influential businessmen, and the leftist press often complains that media owned by the president's friends ignore negative stories about him. The president's spokesman said "no instruction or demand was sent from here" to alter the photograph. "We are not that good at working with Photoshop," he added. Clearly, however, they are good at making friends in the right places.

From Friendly to Friends is a Long Distance

Several media outlets in the United States and abroad reported the affair between well-known Telemundo reporter/anchor Mirthala Salinas and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The mayor, who is going through a divorce, admitted to the affair and said that a year ago, the friendship "had grown to a point where it was necessary to inform her management that she shouldn't cover me..They agreed." Ms. Salinas said that she first had known the mayor "at a professional level," but then they "went on to become friends." Press reports said Ms. Salinas had similar relationships with a California state senator and the California Assembly speaker. She was eventually removed from the Telemundo political beat and left Telemundo in October. In a similar apparent conflict of interest situation, Amy Jacobson, a reporter for Chicago's WMAQ, was fired when she (in her bathing suit) and her children were photographed socializing at the house of a man she was covering for a story on his wife's disappearance while they were in divorce proceedings. Jacobson admitted a "lapse in judgment" but said she went to the man's house in the pursuit of the story. "When I'm on a story, I don't want to get beat," she told the Chicago Tribune. "I'm very competitive..I thought this was an opportunity to hear their side.." It has to make one wonder: What were these reporters-not to mention Jacobson's children-thinking?

NBC's Predatory Practices

NBC's To catch a predator, a sting operation that aims to attract and expose pedophiles through Internet chat rooms and eventual rendezvous, ran into trouble recently in Murphy, Texas, where the city manager was dismissed for permitting NBC to set up its operation there. To make matters worse, the AP said, one of those who had allegedly engaged in an explicit online chat with an adult posing as a 13-year-old boy, but never showed up at the rendezvous house, was an assistant prosecutor in a neighboring county, who killed himself when the police came to arrest him. Finally, the local district attorney refused to prosecute the Murphy cases because they were organized by media people. "If professionals had been running the show, they would have done a much better job rather than being at the beck and call of outsiders," he said. Shouldn't journalists stick to reporting the news rather than making it?

Et tu, BBC

One of the world's best news organizations, the BBC, is facing a major crisis in viewer confidence because of a series of embarrassing incidents caused by faked results of BBC-sponsored competitions and a serious misrepresentation of the Queen's behavior in a promotion for a documentary about her. The BBC has undertaken a comprehensive review of its standards and practices, in an effort, as its director general said, to "put our house in order." In several instances the competitions had been won by audience members who, in fact, were staff members and winners' names were lost and fictitious names were substituted. "There is no excuse for deception," the director general said. If the choice is between "deception and a program going off the air, let the program go," he added. The incident with the Queen occurred during the filming by the RDF production company of a photography session from which the Queen appeared to be leaving in a huff. The trailer provided to the BBC by RDF to be used in promoting the documentary was apparently edited out of sequence and the impression it left about the Queen's behavior was false. RDF apologized to both the BBC and the Queen, but the damage was done. As a result, the BBC has canceled all its competitions and severed its agreement with RDF. A little introspection in advance may restore the BBC's journalistic reputation. Let's hope.

A Dutch Treat

When the Dutch television reality show The Big Donor announced last May that it was going to feature an ailing woman who would select one of three contestants to receive her kidneys when she died, it created a huge uproar both within and outside the Netherlands, the Guardian (U. K.) reported. The government called for the show's cancellation but the BNN network that was running it said the program should be shown to increase public awareness for the need of transplant organs. The whole thing imploded, however, when a few minutes before the show's end the producers revealed that it was a hoax-the donor was an actress and the potential recipients, although kidney patients, were in on the hoax. Agence France Press reported that one of the BNN directors said that they had "worked on this stunt for a year but we never thought this would be such a runaway success." The show's creator said, "I would never make a show like the Big Donor show for real. I understand the uproar but this was needed to get the donor shortage on the agenda." Perhaps, but what about the cost to media credibility?

Squid pro quo

The New York Times reported that Richard Johnson, editor of New York Post's gossip Page Six, admitted in May that he received $1,000 cash payment from a New York restaurateur whose name regularly appeared in his column. Post Editor Col Allan said that Johnson made a "grave mistake," and he "was reprimanded." "There is no, and never has been, any quid pro quo," Allan said. The Times said that in the two years following the "gift" the restaurant or its owner was mentioned at least "15 times in Page Six, almost always favorably." At the risk of appearing ungrateful, shouldn't Post editors be curious enough to ask what prompted the "gift"?

Physician (you'd better) Heal Thyself

A study by Scott Maier of the University of Oregon published in Journalism Practice revealed that about one in ten news sources in a sample of 2,700 stories published in U. S. newspapers had informed the papers of the errors that they had perceived. Less than 2% of them generated newspaper corrections. The study pointed out that the majority of errors were "considered too inconsequential to correct," but also that the sources felt that their complaints were futile (ignored by the paper) or even might lead to reprisals. Anyone can make a mistake, but to call 98% of news source complaints inconsequential is disconcerting. Doesn't the public deserve to be told about any error, in a timely and accurate manner? Press credibility is low enough as it is. Diminishing the importance of acknowledgement of errors and their correction will only hurt the media's cause, not protect their reputations.