Back in February, Larry King, former host of Larry King Live at CNN, appeared on TBS’s Conan. He was there to promote Omega XL, a product that King now endorses. While he was there, King mentioned that while he was at CNN, he and other CNN employees were not allowed to make product endorsements. However, CNN appears to be changing that rule in order to accommodate the stars of the CNN Original Series.
Back in April of 2014, CNN announced three more Original Series at their Upfront, with new shows from Mike Rowe, Lisa Ling, and John Walsh. John Walsh, the former host of America’s Most Wanted, has also long endorsed safety-related products. Walsh, in addition to being a spokesperson, serves as Vice Chairman of GreatCall, according to the company’s homepage. Then in June, GreatCall announced a new advertising campaign starring Walsh. Now Walsh, an announced CNN personality, would be endorsing a product and serving in its advertising. In addition to that, the advertising campaign would be airing on CNN. In an email exchange with TKNN, a press relations representative working for GreatCall confirmed that Walsh would be continuing to serve as a GreatCall spokesperson. However, a different GreatCall spokeswoman confirmed to TKNN that the advertisements would not be airing during The Hunt with John Walsh. She said that the company would not run commercials during the program as to not confuse Walsh’s two “roles.”
On July 28, Charles Mozdir was killed in a shoot-out with police. The Hunt had featured Mozdir and a tip from a viewer led police to find the fugitive. After the police announced the news, Walsh was on several of CNN’s news programs talking about the events. When he wasn’t on, CNN news programs showed clips. Here, GreatCall’s policy of not mixing up the two “roles” takes a hit. Walsh in his The Hunt capability and possibly the commercials would be seen together. In addition, CNN usually runs lower thirds promoting The Hunt during the news programs. In an email exchange about the commercials and the promotions for The Hunt appearing, the GreatCall spokeswoman said that she couldn’t hypothesize on it.
When TKNN reached out to the spokeswoman for The Hunt, she said in a phone interview that Walsh and his show does not apply to the no-endorsement policy because he does not host a “breaking news show.” However, Professor Jane Kirtley of the University of Minnesota disagrees. She said in a phone interview that she does not believe that on-air personalities should make endorsements. She said that Walsh could be compared to Alex Trebek, who is not a journalist, but people see him as a trustworthy figure because of his role on Jeopardy! Trebek does have an endorsement deal with Colonial Penn, a life insurance company.
When talking to Professor Robert Drechsel of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he said that Walsh’s association with CNN makes the suggestion that The Hunt is a journalism program. He said that it is highly unlikely that any newsroom would permit the kind of partnership that Walsh has with GreatCall. Professor Drechsel also said that this situation is “significant” and poses much more of an ethical issue for CNN than it is for Walsh.
TKNN did reach out to Zero Point Zero Productions, which produces The Hunt, and asked if they have an endorsement policy. Zero Point Zero has not responded.
CNN prides itself on its objectivity and impartiality, employees at the network talk about how CNN doesn’t take sides. However, a product endorsement would run contrary to that. However, Original Series are ratings winners.