WGTU-29 Provides the Fake Play-By-Play

Story on High-Definition Systems Lacks Clarity

Submitted by Diane Farsetta on
Clients: Harris Corporation
Release Date: September 2007
Aired By: 1 station
Disclosed By: No stations

Lori Puckett's job title at WGTU-29 (Traverse City / Cadillac, Mich.) is Production & Promotions Manager, but she also anchors the television station's evening news show. WGTU's website credits Puckett for her "creative and unique advertising concepts."

Unfortunately, when anchoring the news, Puckett isn't so creative. On September 18, 2007, she not only presented an entire, pre-packaged video news release (VNR) as though it were news, she also read the suggested "lead" and "tag" lines exactly as they appeared on the VNR script.

"While more NFL fans are watching games in high definition than ever before," said Puckett, "this year they will be joined by some very important people -- the replay referees. Here's a behind-the-scenes look."

What followed was not a "behind-the-scenes look," but a VNR funded by the Harris Corporation, a company that describes itself as a "leading provider of HDTV [high-definition television] solutions for sports broadcasting." The VNR -- while ostensibly showing how new HDTV systems were helping football referees make better calls -- mentioned Harris Corporation by name, showed the Harris logo, and interviewed Harris's Rich Zabel.

At the end of the VNR segment, WGTU's Puckett dutifully read her script, saying, "The remaining teams -- New York, Dallas, Indianapolis, and Kansas City -- will upgrade when they open their new stadiums currently under construction." She offered no disclosure, fumbling away viewers' right to know where their news comes from.

The Harris VNR was distributed and promoted by the broadcast public relations firm D S Simon Productions. D S Simon may or may not have produced the VNR. Neither the VNR script nor alert mentions another PR firm, but the segment lacks the brief on-screen and verbal sponsor notifications that end most D S Simon VNRs.

WGTU aired two other VNRs tracked by the Center for Media and Democracy: one promoting Capital One's financial education materials, and one promoting John Deere tractors.

See the original Harris Corporation VNR, as well as the WGTU-29 news segment, below.

Original Harris Corporation VNR WGTU-29 11PM newscast
D S Simon Productions September 18, 2007
Voiced by publicist Uncut, voiced by publicist