The latest example of the ethically questionable practice of “checkbook journalism” (in which journalists pay their sources) comes—almost—from ABC News. The network was prepared to offer Richard Heene, who was convicted of the “balloon-boy” hoax, $10,000 for home video that would have aired with an exclusive interview on “Good Morning America,” reports the New York Post. But GMA decided not to show the footage and killed the story after a Fort Collins judge ruled that the Heene parents cannot profit in any way from the stunt. A news industry insider says, “With NBC News chartering Learjets left and right for interview subjects, ABC was smart to avoid even the appearance of pay-for-play.” The practice of journos paying for stories has come up several times recently. The Society of Professional Journalists recently blasted NBC News for paying for air travel to obtain an interview with David Goldman and his son, Sean, in connection with a headline-grabbing international custody case (via The Baltimore Sun).
The Salt Lake Tribune discusses the trend, writing that television news organizations seem less intent to avoid “the mere appearance of a conflict of interest,” rather than only avoiding any conflict. As for Heene, he recently appeared on “Larry King Live” to deny he purposely orchestrated the balloon-boy chase. Heene will spend 90 days in jail after pleading guilty to felony influencing of a public official.