The Pay-As-You-Go Show

To paraphrase Benjamin Disraeli, there are lies, damn lies and media rationalizations about controversial programming.

There are certainly no legitimate reasons for defending the pay-as-you-go practices of WFLA-TV Channel 8’s Daytime show. The soft-news morning program has a standard practice of charging some guests a fee — $2,500 for four to six minutes of exposure — to chat about their product or service.

Daytime, which airs at 10:00 right after the Today show, is part of a recognized television genre: a fluff-feature A.M. show with a lot of obsequious and vacuous chatting. Some occasionally cut away for an actual news item. It is what it is. If viewers should assume it’s a local version of NBC’s Today, which doesn’t charge guests, then that’s a perception that WFLA can certainly live with.

For those interested in the “news,” there are regular, around-the-clock, around-the-globe sources for all that’s wrong with the world. “If it bleeds, it leads” is a hard-news tenet. “If you’re a client, we’re pliant” would seem an operative credo for Daytime.

Here’s the problem if you care at all about journalism. If you’re doing an infomercial, say so — with obvious, upfront labeling, including proper identification in the TV listings. There’s a place in the market for these paid-advertisement hybrids. Without them, we’d have far fewer options to acquire killer abs, buns of steel and the mother of all blenders. They are what they are.

But programs such as Daytime are not what they seem. They appear to be info-tainment, yet another media amalgam. They are, however, pimp forums, ready to cater to the self-promoting fantasies of customer-johns with a story to tell.

In its defense, WFLA officials note that Daytime isn’t produced by the station’s news department, nor does it conceal the nature of pay-as-you-go guests. True, but quickly noting that “The following segments were paid advertisements” in the final credits is nothing more than an ethical loophole. It’s not to be confused with the sort of obvious labeling that provides an honest indication of what viewers have just seen.

There is, suffice it to say, more than enough on TV that is bad. But the question is typically taste — and the answer is: don’t watch.

When the question is ethics, however, the answer should be: don’t show it.

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