News, Commercialism and Entertainment…

At what point does the line between news/media and the entertainment industry become so blurred that you can no longer distinguish a difference between the two?

Last night in my TV watching experience there were two events that really disturbed and really brings this into question.

Case #1 – 60 Minutes: First, watching 60 Minutes last night, in one segment they had an interview with Legendary Apollo 11 Astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first time he’s been interviewed in a very long time.  The interview itself is was very interesting, and I really appreciated the chance to learn more about a living part of our nation’s history.  However, the interview itself was prefaced with the statement that the interview was basically commemorating a recently-released (Oct 25) authorized biography written about Armstrong.  Later, when the book was quoted in the interview, 60 minutes added the disclaimer that the book was published by Simon & Schuster.  However, if memory serves, they failed to note that Simon & Schuster’s parent company is Viacom, the company that actually owns CBS.

And with that, this marks the third time in the last month a large-scale interview was done in conjunction with a book release: Neil Armstrong, Michael Jordon & Bill Romanowski.  Two of the three books are published by Simon & Schuster (Michael Jordan’s book was published by Atria, which is owned by Simon & Schuster).

The point I’m trying to make is that it seems that recently 60 minutes has become Viacom’s kick-off event for their latest book tour.  Even with controversial stories like the Richard Clarke interview (who blamed Bush for a lot of intelligence/War on Terror issues) was done in congruence with his book release – published by – "Free Press", an imprint company of Simon & Schuster.

Events like that make me wonder which 60 Minutes interviews/stories are legitimate, in which ones are being driven by the marketing department at Viacom…

Case #2 – the West Wing: After 60 Minutes I turned the channel over to the West Wing, one of my favorite TV shows.  Last night they had their major big event for November sweeps – the "Live Debate Episode".  In case you’re not a WingNut, President Bartlet’s (Martin Sheen) second term is up, and now the election is under way between Santos (Jimmy Smits) and Vinick (Alan Alda).  The campaign is in full swing now, and with it comes time for a debate.  This "Live" format is a follow-up to the Live ER that they had during Sweeps month a few years ago.

Overall I really liked the episode, I thought it was well done.  What I really had a problem with was the fact they all throughout the episode, right on the screen they plastered the "NBC News" logo for all to see.  This isn’t the normal NBC logo (which all networks do today), but it actually said "NBC News" right on the bottom – as if this was a real Presidential Debate.  Additionally, they had their own commentator/anchor Forrest Sawyer moderating this fictitious debate.

On one hand I can appreciate the show’s producers & NBC attempting to make this realistic, but there’s a point where you need to draw the line to maintain your credibility and respect.  I’m not sure if by putting their "stamp of approval" on this staged event has crossed that line…  I’d be anxious to hear what people think…