By FRANK SWERTLOW
It’s not uncommon for Los Angeles TV stations to hype the stars of their prime-time series in their nightly newscasts, but KABC-TV Channel 7 recently offered a new twist on the thorny issue of self promotion.
On a Feb. 19 newscast, KABC entertainment reporter George Pennacchio gave a detailed account of the highlights of the March issue of Los Angeles magazine, which is owned by Walt Disney Co. the same company that owns KABC’s parent, ABC Inc.
“Sharon Stone graces the cover with more pics inside,” Pennacchio told viewers. “The magazine also gives you Brad Pitt’s interior designer, the cosmetic dentist to the stars who knows how to get your teeth the whitest, plus the veterinary dentist to the stars.”
Pennacchio added, “There’s also the best eyebrow plucker around and the place to get the best vintage clothing. There’s a lot more, actually, but, by the way, the magazine also gives you all their phone numbers, except Sharon Stone’s.”
Pennacchio did not tell viewers that the TV station and magazine are owned by the same company.
“It’s really shocking,” said Prof. Bryce Nelson, an expert on journalistic ethics at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication. “To do promotion for anyone on the air is wrong and really a violation of journalistic ethics. It is especially disturbing that the same company owns both. It should have been identified.”
For years, media critics have expressed concern that conglomerates like Disney would use their clout to cross-promote their other offerings, thereby dominating the marketplace. CNN was criticized last summer for allowing its correspondents to appear in Warner Bros. films. CNN and Warner Bros. are both divisions of Time Warner Inc. CNN officials said they would stop the practice.
Bill Burton, a spokesman for KABC-TV, said that Pennacchio reported on Los Angeles magazine because the March issue was devoted to Hollywood.
“This is the beat of the reporter,” Burton said. “It covered Hollywood and he is interested in Hollywood. There is no hidden story.”
Pennacchio, however, did not report about the Feb. 23-March 2 issue of The New Yorker, which is devoted to “California” and contained articles about DreamWorks SKG partner David Geffen, Warner Bros. founder Jack L. Warner and the confessions of a movie starlet. Disney does not own The New Yorker.
Burton nonetheless insisted that KABC-TV does not favor “Disney shows or products.”
He said that KABC-TV has done stories about other magazines, such as the recent Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. He said the station also has an on-air partnership with Daily Variety, the show business trade journal.
Marilyn Bethany, editor of Buzz magazine, the primary competitor of Los Angeles magazine, was bemused by Burton’s remarks.
“Oh come on, does he think we believe in the tooth fairy?” she said. “This report stinks of promotional copy.”
USC’s Nelson said Pennacchio’s report on Los Angeles magazine was so journalistically thin that it would not even pass muster as fodder for a newspaper column on the magazine industry.