In the wake of criticism over high-priced news talent making big bucks on the lecture circuit, NBC News has issued a policy forbidding its employees from giving paid speeches to trade organizations or for-profit companies. It is a similar plan to one that ABC News put into place in January, over the protests of such regulars on the lecture circuit as Sam Donaldson, Cokie Roberts, Chris Wallace and David Brinkley, all of whom stood to lose tens of thousands of dollars a year because of the policy change.
Before the furor, CBS News had the strictest policy of the bunch on paid speaking engagements. To this day, any speech must be approved by the news division president. Current CBS News prexy Eric Ober has spoken out in the past against news talent taking speech money from trade groups and corporations.
Like CBS, CNN brass judges each speech request on a case-by-case basis. CNN prexy Tom Johnson tightened up company policy in 1992 after executive vice president and “Moneyline” anchor Lou Dobbs got in hot water for accepting fees for appearing in several promotional videotapes for a variety of financial institutions.
Meanwhile, the networks that have recently instituted policy changes didn’t do so because a sudden wave of ethics swept through their corporate suites. They were shamed into it. The ABC News edict, issued in mid-June 1994, came a scant month after a devastating article about the money news stars were raking in by Alicia C. Shepard in the American Journalism Review. The following September in the New Yorker, Ken Auletta took up the theme and went even further with it, letting a host of household news names embarrass themselves with their own words. In that piece NBC News president Andy Lack promised changes in his shop’s policy were in the works. A year later he made good on the promise.