The larger than life personalities of cable news are constantly at each other's throats. For years, FOX's Bill O'Reilly and MSNBC's Keith Olbermann duked it out on the screen with Olbermann naming O'Reilly the "Most Hated Person" and Olbermann topping O'Reilly's "Pinhead" list every now and again. But, the growth of cable news means more cable hosts are jumping in to the fray. The new battle - MSBNC's Joe Scarborough versus Comedy Central's Jon Stuart. I understand "The Daily Show" is not a news show, but it does provide commentary on the news business and is as much involved in the news industry as the other cable guys. And in many circles, the Daily Show is more respected than the "real" news shows the other cable guys are producing. That's why it was disheartening this week to watch Jon Stuart and Joe Scarborough - a comedian and a news anchor - go at it.
The scuffle started when Joe Scarborough's morning show on MSNBC cut a deal with Starbucks. The deal: Joe, his co-anchor and guests sip on Starbucks coffee and lattes during the morning show and Starbucks cuts Scarborough's show a check, a big one. At first, allegations swirled that that check would be made for 10 million, but the show quickly renounced that claim as not in the ballpark. Essentially, this deal was seen by Jon Stuart as product placement in cable news, which is a whole other story, but I'll return to that later.
Stuart poked fun at Scarborough for the Starbucks deal after Scarborough totally downplayed the product placement and the check his show would receive. For Stuart, the simple fact remained - an ethical line is crossed when news endorses one specific product. Scarborough reacted to Stuart's claims saying Stuart is just an angry man. Scarborough says he likes many talk show people he doesn't always agree with politically, citing the women on The View, but he finds Stuart to just be angry. Let's see if Stuart fires back.
Now, what about those million dollar Starbucks coffees that will sit on Joe Scarborough's anchor desk from now on. Did Jon Stuart overreact? Is coffee product placement really crossing an ethical boundary. After all - it's just coffee. Anchors have been sipping coffee on set for years. I believe product placement is a problem, but not for Joe Scarborough's morning show on MSNBC. Well, what makes Scarborough's show different from the others you may be asking? First of all, the show is called "Morning Joe," so it's only appropriate that a big coffee sits on his desk. But most of all - I watch "Morning Joe" quite a lot and yes they deliver news and have newsmakers on as guest-anchors, but it feels more like a talk-show to me than a morning news show. It's more The View and less the Today Show. And, obviously, a talk show doesn't have the journalistic standards of fairness that news shows must uphold.
But, if Scarborough's Starbucks coffee ever finds its way to Brian Williams' Nightly News desk, I'll have something fierce to blog about.
Jon Stuart has a point - product placement crosses an ethical line. Scarborough will now think twice about reporting on problems within the Starbucks company, but Stuart doesn't see "Morning Joe" for the show that it really is. It is more talk than news. After all, Scarborough was a Republican Congressman from Florida before he broke into television, so the political bias other news reporters avoid is clear as day on "Morning Joe."But that's why people tune in - to see a moderate-Republican anchor on a network with left-leaning tendencies. This political bias is a brand just like that Starbucks cup.
So Stuart, you have a point, but it doesn't apply to Scarborough's talk show, because it is just that - a talk show. If you really are concerned about product placement, go over to the Today show and see what Willard Scott is doing with the people turning 100 years old. Is he still pushing that Smuckers jelly? Now, there's product placement on a morning news show!