TKNN’s Tyler Kusma penned an article today that has gained some traction on some sites regarding CNN’s endorsement policy and The Hunt’s John Walsh…
Back in February, Larry King, former host of Larry King Live at CNN, appeared on TBS’s Conan. He was there to promote Omega XL, a product that King now endorses. While he was there, King mentioned that while he was at CNN, he and other CNN employees were not allowed to make product endorsements. However, CNN appears to be changing that rule in order to accommodate the stars of the CNN Original Series.
Back in April of 2014, CNN announced three more Original Series at their Upfront, with new shows from Mike Rowe, Lisa Ling, and John Walsh. John Walsh, the former host of America’s Most Wanted, has also long endorsed safety-related products. Walsh, in addition to being a spokesperson, serves as Vice Chairman of GreatCall, according to the company’s homepage. Then in June, GreatCall announced a new advertising campaign starring Walsh. Now Walsh, an announced CNN personality, would be endorsing a product and serving in its advertising. In addition to that, the advertising campaign would be airing on CNN. In an email exchange with TKNN, a press relations representative working for GreatCall confirmed that Walsh would be continuing to serve as a GreatCall spokesperson. However, a different GreatCall spokeswoman confirmed to TKNN that the advertisements would not be airing during The Hunt with John Walsh. She said that the company would not run commercials during the program as to not confuse Walsh’s two “roles.”
On July 28, Charles Mozdir was killed in a shoot-out with police. The Hunt had featured Mozdir and a tip from a viewer led police to find the fugitive. After the police announced the news, Walsh was on several of CNN’s news programs talking about the events. When he wasn’t on, CNN news programs showed clips.. Here, GreatCall’s policy of not mixing up the two “roles” takes a hit. Walsh in his The Hunt capability and possibly the commercials would be seen together. In addition, CNN usually runs lower thirds promoting The Hunt during the news programs. In an email exchange about the commercials and the promotions for The Hunt appearing, the GreatCall spokeswoman said that she couldn’t hypothesize on it.
When TKNN reached out to the spokeswoman for The Hunt, she said in a phone interview that Walsh and his show does not apply to the no-endorsement policy because he does not host a “breaking news show.” However, Professor Jane Kirtley of the University of Minnesota disagrees. She said in a phone interview that she does not believe that on-air personalities should make endorsements. She said that Walsh could be compared to Alex Trebek, who is not a journalist, but people see him as a trustworthy figure because of his role on Jeopardy! Trebek does have an endorsement deal with Colonial Penn, a life insurance company.
This is rather nebulous and complicated to sort through but it’s not nearly as cut and dried as Kusma lays it out to be vis a vis CNN’s “changing” policy. There may not even be a policy that changed at all in regards to Walsh. I’ll try to explain below.
First, there is the issue of whether Walsh even qualifies as a CNN employee the way King did. The answer to this question is the linchpin of the entire article because a non-employee would probably not be subject to CNN’s endorsement policy and if Walsh isn’t an employee then CNN didn’t have to change its policy for any GreatCall employee because the policy never applied. If that is indeed the case, whether it should have applied would be a separate issue which I’ll circle back to later.
Second, there is the issue of when/where/if GreatCall ads appear/should appear on CNN’s programming. According to the article there’s apparently no question of whether GreatCall’s ads appear during The Hunt as GreatCall spokesperson said that no ads would appear. But Kusma notes, correctly in my view, that it would be theoretically possible for Walsh to show up at other times as part of an interview segment on CNN when GreatCall ads featuring Walsh might appear. CNN…in fact all networks…probably don’t have the kind of control over spots that they can swap them out on ultra short notice based on a last minute scheduling change in its guests appearances. So there is a chance that Walsh appears on CNN Newsroom or some other show and then there’s a commercial break and a GreatCall ad appears featuring Walsh.
This my friends is what we call an unfortunate set of circumstances. But it does not necessarily automatically mean CNN has made a policy change because of the complexities I outlined earlier.
CNN could have avoided this entirely, of course, by refusing to air the GreatCall ads in the first place regardless of whether Walsh, in his capacity as host of a show produced by an outside entity CNN contracted for, did or did not fall under CNN’s endorsement policy.
In my view CNN should have rejected the ads. They don’t need the grief just like FNC didn’t need the grief caused by Glenn Beck’s gold hawking ads. But as to the question of whether CNN changed its policy to accommodate Walsh…I don’t think the case has been made one way or the other. We need more information from CNN on that to render an accurate judgement.