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Smart Bombs: Money shapes some news

“Checkbook journalism” has long been decried as a corrupt practice, and rightly so. By paying people for interviews, journalists potentially tarnish the truth because sources may feel compelled to say what they think the media want to hear. Or, they may just tell part of the story and hold out for more cash. It’s a slippery slope that leads to embellishment, distortions and lies.

Plus, after media outlets have plunked down dollars to get an exclusive, they aren’t going to be too interested in potentially undermining the story by double-checking the veracity of their paid informants’ claims.

Since the practice is frowned upon, TV networks have tried to work around it by paying “licensing fees” for any photos or videos a source may have. Implicit in this arrangement is an interview. Networks also pay for airfare and posh hotels for interview subjects. The idea is to lock them down and protect their “scoops.”

ABC News helped Casey Anthony defend herself by paying $200,000 for access to photos and other family items. It just so happens that the network’s Barbara Walters landed the first interview with Anthony’s attorney after the verdict. In addition, the news outfit paid Roy Kronk, the man who found Caylee Anthony’s body, $15,000 for a picture of a snake. The photo was briefly used in an interview with Kronk.

ABC News also paid a woman involved in the Anthony Weiner scandal $10,000 to $15,000 for photos. Chris Cuomo, co-anchor for “20/20,” told CNN that this practice “is the state of play right now. I wish it were not. I wish money was not in the game. But you know it’s going to go somewhere else.”

In other words, as long as his competitors have no ethical boundaries, he can’t afford to have them either.

The least the networks could do is tell their viewers that they paid for an interview and divulge the amount. Then viewers could process that information along with the rest.

Or turn the channel.

Reality bites. Media speculation is rampant about how Casey Anthony might cash in on her infamy. Is a reality show a possibility? Martha Stewart has a TV show. Eliot Spitzer had one. G. Gordon Liddy has a radio show. Since shame is no longer a barrier, why not Anthony?

Then again, the title could be tricky since “The Killing” and “Lie To Me” are already taken.

Band stand. Back when a ban on congressional earmarking was the litmus test for seriousness on federal spending cuts, I noted they represented a paltry 1 to 2 percent of the total budget pie. Several correspondents let me know that while a ban would do very little to cut the deficit, it presented an important symbolic moment. After all, if Congress couldn’t zap that meager amount, what were the odds it could agree on serious spending cuts?

Fair point.

So let’s fast forward, with Congress looking for more cuts. U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., discovered that the Pentagon plans to spend $325 million next year on military bands. So she sponsored a bill to cut band aid by $125 million for the armed forces’ 154 groups.

That’s right. The military has 154 bands. Not only do we need a military that is much, much larger than any other country’s, we apparently must have the most tubas, too.

U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, tried to rally colleagues and defeat the bill, saying the bands are essential to recruitment, morale and patriotism. Others noted that $125 million is practically meaningless as a percentage of the budget. But McCollum wouldn’t retreat, suggesting that the military could somehow make do with $200 million for tunes in these tough budgetary times.

Her bill passed the House. If the Senate concurs, it would mark the first time Congress has ever cut the band budget.

After all, if you can’t cut $125 million, what can you cut?

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Sundays on the Opinion page. Crooks can be reached at or at (509) 459-5026.