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Firm Under Fire for Staged 'News Report'

In a story reminiscent of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's fake news conference last October, a Connecticut law firm and its PR consultant are coming under fire for a staged "news" program airing on public-access TV. The half-hour program features two partners from Hartford's Shipman & Goodwin being interviewed about their recent $12.4 million jury win in an eminent domain case against the town of Branford. Conducting the interview is the firm's PR consultant, Duby McDowell -- and therein lies the problem.

As reported by the New Haven Advocate, McDowell is a former TV journalist who covered state politics for Connecticut's WFSB-TV Channel 3 and who continues to serve as a news analyst for the station. In the video (which you can see at this Web site the firm set up about the case), she is identified as "Duby McDowell, WFSB Political Analyst," but never as a paid PR consultant for the lawyers being interviewed. Her "co-host" in interviewing the two lawyers, Tanya Meck, is identified as a former planning and zoning chair in West Hartford, without any mention that she, too, is a paid PR consultant. The Advocate explains why this setup might not be a good idea:

"The PR video, unlike a news chat show set in an actual television studio, is not a bipartisan discussion of the issues. For one thing it has no analyst from the other side. There's no one representing the town, not an official, not an attorney.

"It is a set Shipman & Goodwin rented out for the occasion. McDowell does not tell the viewers that this show has nothing to do with WFSB-TV. She does not inform the viewing audience that Shipman & Goodwin is a client, that she is getting paid. She does not say the law firm hired her company, Duby McDowell Communications LLC, which specializes in press relations, strategic communications and media training."

Here's the kicker: The Advocate asks McDowell whether the video might lead a viewer to think she was functioning as a WFSB political analyst rather than as a paid PR person. "Yes," she replies straight out, adding after several seconds, "However, it is pretty clear during the whole video. ... We needed some sort of title for everybody, and that is what we came up with." What, in her opinion, made it clear? The video has several references to the firm's Web site about the case, which both interviewers refer to at some point as "our Web site," and the video concludes with this: "This program has been presented by Shipman and Goodwin." To me, this looks like a classic example of fake news, one that is sure to mislead at least some of the people who watch it.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on January 28, 2008 at 05:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

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