Television’s Panhandlers

By Casey Bukro

If you wonder if some journalists are clueless about ethics, consider Susanna Negovan.

Negovan appeared as a freelance contributor on “Good Day Chicago,”  reporting how she attended with her husband a lavish private party in Chicago  for customers of Tiffany & Co. who had spent a million dollars or more on jewelry.

“I had black cod. My husband had filet mignon,” she said. “We probably each had a thousand dollars in wine and champagne.”

Showing a video of herself trying on a $750,000 bracelet, Negovan added: “I was hoping they would let me keep it.” (Okay, this had to be a joke. She can’t be that clueless. But you have to wonder about her smarts for even saying that on live television.)

Nevogan’s enthusiasm reached a peak when she said: “Before the party, it was so cool, they dropped off gifts for me!” including a Tiffany crystal bud vase.

It was a bravura performance in “gimme-gimme.”

Negovan’s full-time job is publisher and editor of Splash, an arts and entertainment supplement published by Sun-Times Media.  The segment in which she appeared was dubbed the “Tiffany Diamond Party” by Fox Chicago, WFLD Channel 32.

The “piece was over the top by any standard,” reported Robert Feder, who has covered the media beat in Chicago since 1980. He called it “more brazen and more obnoxious than anything she’d ever done before. And that’s saying a lot.”

AdviceLine asked Negovan how she responded to Feder’s accusations that she accepted freebies from a company she covers, but she did not reply. Negovan reportedly did not keep the gifts after Feder’s revelations.

The incident was more blatant than usual, but continues a long tradition of Chicago television anchors and others gorging themselves on air with food sent by merchants, or accepting gifts. There is no evidence these TV celebrities pay for any of this stuff, though many of them earn salaries in the six figures or more.

After a segment on Chicago hotdogs, a WGN-TV Channel 9 weather man on air wondered why the hot dog vender failed to send “samples.”

It’s shameful when a well-paid weatherman begs for food on television.

But it did not end there. A few days later,  on October 22, 2013, Mark Suppelsa, a WGN -TV anchor, looked directly into the camera and, with a big grin, said: “We like you better when you bring us free stuff,” after getting a box of Cracker Jack from a reporter.

It’s common to hear television anchors offering thanks for “sending that over,” referring to things like free pizza or other food or drinks. Don’t they know that makes them look cheap?

Journalists are supposed to be representatives of the people. What are the chances for the rest of us getting free pizza or hot dogs?

The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics says “refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment….if they compromise journalistic integrity.”

Journalists can stuff themselves on air if they think that’s newsworthy, but at least make an effort to pay for the food like the rest of us.

This might seem like a small point. But it comes at a time when the Gallup Poll released new findings showing that the honesty and ethics rating of journalists continues to slide.

Gallup has asked Americans to rate the honesty and ethical standards of various professions since 1976. A December 5-8, 2013 poll found that 20 percent of Americans rated TV reporters as high or very high in honesty and ethical standards. Twenty-one percent ranked newspaper reporters high or very high.

By comparison, back in 1981, Gallup found that 32 percent of Americans believed that journalists in general ranked high or very high in honesty or ethical standards. That ranking has been falling ever since.

It can’t help confidence in journalists for Americans to see TV freeloaders begging for food and gifts.

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