Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Room With a View

Hey, folks, just got back from the newly renovated Ritz Carleton Hotel in Pasadena and let me tell you something, it is some piece of work.
Everying about the place is first class. The rooms are exquisite, the food and wine is delictable and the ambience is unlike anthing this side of Versaille.
Talk about deluxe, the Ritz defines the word. I couldn't have been treated better if I was Mr. Ritz himself.
I suggest you try it at your next earliest convenience. Tell 'em Bob sent you.
And, oh yeah, I got to stay there free of charge, enjoying the best of everything the hotel has to offer at absolutely no cost to me.
Does that color my view of the place? You bet it does. Does this smack of quid pro quo? Damn right. Should any ethical journalist run screaming from this kind of Faustian bargain? You bet your sweet byline.
Unless, apparently, you work for KTLA.
It seems the folks at that station did a live broadcast from the Ritz recently trumpeting the hotel's $19 million renovation.
As reported by Gene Maddaus of the Pasadena Star-News, three of KTLA"s anchors- Michaela Pereira, Sam Rubin and Carlos Amezcua- spent the night in the Ritz's "renovated deluxe guestrooms," a fact that was omitted during the broadcast.
"They all received wine and chocolates," said a Ritz spokeswoman. Their visit was free, in exchange for airtime.
"That would be like a trade, I guess," said KTLA spokeswoman Carolyn Aguayo. "It's just the anchors."
When I was a young lad sitting at my editor's knee, one of the first thing I learned about the journalistic profession is that you never accept anything of value from someone you are reporting on. That would include anything from a bottle of scotch to a pen and pencil set to a stay in a five star hotel.
This isn't always easy. In journalism, the work is hard, the pay is lousy and the temptations are great.
But to underscore the point, an editor of mine once said about Watergate, "If we're going to bring down a President, we had better have our own house in order."
There are few deviations from this policy. Obviously, receiving a flak jacket while being embedded with the Marines in Iraq, is not a conflict of interest. Attending a press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House is not accepting the largesse of a sitting president or the party in power.
One of the strange things about the KTLA pratfall is that the station is owned by the Tribune, which also owns the Los Angeles Times. Employees of both are governed by a Tribune Code of Ethical Standards which bars reporters from accepting gifts from the people they cover.
Such conduct at any newspaper I ever worked for would have resulted in a quick and messy exit. Indeed, had I really accepted free accomodations from the Ritz, chances are good I wouldn't be writing this column now.
But apparently, code of ethics notwithstanding, the KTLA newsroom has their own peculiar philosophy.
In fact, Channel Island, the Times blog, reported that "an anchor at KTLA received a customized dining-room makeover worth more than $10,000 for her own home, in what a local furniture merchant says was meant to be a swap of free goods and services in exchange for favorable coverage on the station's Morning News.
"Instead, the arrangement soured when the story never ran, leaving the ...station scrambling to right a tangled situation that could raise new questions about its ethical practices.
" Anchor Michaela Pereira volunteered her Pasadena home for the "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition"-style story, which was taped in September with the cooperation of Los Angeles-area furniture retailer IdentityCraft.
"Allen Smith, a co-owner of IdentityCraft, said that he agreed to participate after a KTLA producer approached him with the idea because he believed the promotion would be good for business. "We pulled out all the stops," Smith said. A designer visited Pereira's home for a consultation and the company provided custom-made furniture and draperies, and also provided some non-customized accessories for her dining area, according to Smith.
"Finally, KTLA producer Rich Goldner, who oversees "Morning News" for the station's news department, told Channel Island that Pereira was selecting which items will be returned to Smith's store. The anchor will pay for the remaining items out of her own pocket, Goldner added.
When it comes to staking out the moral high ground, KTLA is wallowing in Death Valley.
Anchor Sam Rubin said this: "We are not shills for hotels or for anybody," Rubin said. Yes you are, Sam, whether you think you are or not. Was the room service slow? Was the mattress too hard? Did they pour you Pinot Noir when you wanted Merlot? Did they forget to put a mint on your pillow? We'll never know from you, Sam, because the minute you accepted the freebies, you became a promoter, not a journalist.

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