ABC Is Guilty of Checkbook Journalism

The term checkbook journalism has always referred to sleazy outfits so desperate to put some scandal in front of the public that they paid to get the story. That accusation now lands squarely on the desk of ABC News and the network is denying it lamely.

The attorney for Casey Anthony, accused of murdering her 2-year-old daughter, testified in court on Thursday that the client had been paid $200,000 by ABC, but that money was now gone.

ABC denies using checkbook journalism, but according to a report the network "released a statement confirming it paid for licensed exclusive rights to an extensive library of photos and home video, but that no use of the material was tied to any interview."

Not that it matters. ABC is still admitting it paid $200,000 that aided the defense of a woman accused of murdering her 2-year-old daughter. All that to get exclusive photos and video -- an appalling step into ghoulish, tabloid journalism for a major news network. The network has done at least 30 separate stories on the murder case since 2008.

Of particular note are the images of the defendant and her now-deceased child. On Sept. 5, 2008, ABC released "Never-Before-Seen Images of Casey Anthony and Missing Florida Toddler." The images included photos and video showing a seemingly happy family.

As explained, "Intimate, never-before-seen pictures and home videos of the girl and her young mother offer a rare window into Caylee's life." And possibly a rare window into the news practices at ABC.

ABC's undisclosed purchase of those images would appear to violate up to seven separate categories of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. Those violations include one to "Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity" and another to "avoid bidding for news." The network could be criticized especially for failing to disclose the financial relationship while its staff raised questions about people bailing out the defendant.

Already, the Poynter Institute is saying ABC's failure to disclose its relationship with the defendant "presents a clear ethical conflict."

Ultimately, it shows how rapidly the media landscape is changing. The National Enquirer is being considered for a Pulitzer Prize for its work exposing John Edwards's affair and out-of-wedlock child. Meanwhile, ABC is accused of paying a woman accused of murdering her 2-year-old daughter.

Dan Gainor is The Boone Pickens Fellow and the Media Research Center’s Vice President for Business and Culture. He is a frequent contributor to The Fox Forum. He can also be contacted on FaceBook and Twitter as dangainor.

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