The LA Times reports that back to school reports on a number of national and local newscasts have included commentary from “a young mother and ‘toy expert’ named Elizabeth Werner,” described as “perky and positive-plus” in her demonstration of seven recommended toys for children. She talks about all the things the toys do in her segments on the air, but does not mention one fact parents might like to know — she is paid $11,000 for each toy she presents by the same company that is hoping you will buy them.
James Rainey points out that it is a violation of FCC rules for a news program to present a sponsored segment without disclosing that it is, in effect, an ad. It is also a violation of journalistic ethics which even chirpy morning shows are supposed to uphold.
Rainey, who by example demonstrates exactly what those standards are for, notes that
Werner is a lawyer who worked for a couple of toy companies before she went into the promotion business. She told me that the company that hires her to do the tours — New Jersey-based DWJ Television — scrupulously notifies TV stations that toy makers pay for the pitches. DWJ founder Dan Johnson, an ABC News veteran of decades gone by, said the same.
So I picked three stations and morning programs that Werner visited over the summer — Fox 2 in Detroit, Fox 5′s “Good Day Atlanta” and the independent KTVK’s “Good Morning Arizona” in Phoenix to see how they plugged the Werner segments. A spokesperson for the two Fox stations and the news director at the Phoenix outlet told me they had been told absolutely nothing about Werner being paid to tout products, which ranged from a Play-Doh press to a new Toy Story video game to the Paper Jamz electronic guitar.
He notes that the burden is not on the promoter who is being paid but on the news programs, who should always be suspicious of anyone who claims to be an expert, especially one who is touring the country without any visible means of support.
The burden, unfortunately, is on parents, who must also learn to be skeptical about “experts” who are just live-action versions of Marge the manicurist or Mr. Whipple the store manager.