ABC Endorses Checkbook Journalism in Casey Anthony Trial

For the past few days, everyone has relished the opportunity to pounce on the lack of media ethics by Rupert Murdoch affiliated tabloid News of the World, but are neglecting to recognize the lack of media ethics by much more mainstream media outlets on this side of the Atlantic.

Over the past three years, often to the chagrin of TV news audiences, Casey Anthony has been the star of the airwaves. Casey, a resident of Orlando, Florida, was indicted on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated manslaughter, and aggravated child abuse following the death of her daughter, Caylee. Last week, Casey was found not guilty of these charges, and thanks to her previous good behavior in prison, is scheduled to go home Sunday. With her imminent release, brazen media outlets will soon begin duking it out to land the coveted first interview with the newly free Casey. Thanks to the thousands of dollars they put towards helping her throughout the trial, though, it seems that ABC News might already have a head start in the competition.

After Caylee went missing in mid-June 2008, a series of suspicious actions by Casey led to her indictment in October 2008. Two months later, Caylee's skeletal remains were discovered on December 11, 2008. A legal team assembled to defend Casey, but the legal fees soon overwhelmed the low-income defendant.

To help pay the bills, defense attorney Jose Baez revealed last March that Casey's team had accepted $200,000 from ABC News to help pay off her legal bills in exchange for exclusive pictures and videos. A spokesperson for ABC News told Mediabistro, "In August 2008 we licensed exclusive rights to an extensive library of photos and home video for use by our broadcasts, platforms, affiliates and international partners. No use of the material was tied to any interview."

It reportedly wasn't the first time ABC helped the Anthony family, either. Mediabistro reported that "[n]ewly released court documents reveal[ed] ABC News paid for a three-night hotel stay at a Central Florida Ritz-Carlton for the grandparents of murdered toddler Caylee Anthony," only days after Caylee's remains were found.

ABC also paid $15,000 to meter reader Roy Kronk, the man who originally found Caylee's decaying remains. He was paid for a picture he took of a rattlesnake in the woods taken in the same vicinity where he found a mysterious object that later turned out to be Caylee's decomposed body. Of course, with a payment that large, Kronk figured an interview was in the works as well, and within days, he appeared on Good Morning America.

The network also landed one of the other most coveted Casey Anthony trial interviews. Only a day after Casey was acquitted of murder, ABC gave Barbara Walters the first post-trial interview with Baez, raising suspicions of how the network so easily landed the spot.

With two of the biggest trial-related interviews already under its belt, thanks to payments to Baez for legal fees and Kronk for the picture, ABC's checkbook might be staying open a little longer. Casey Anthony makes no income, so if a televised interview is to occur, it will surely come with a large price tag. Having already made a good name for themselves in Anthony's camp, ABC easily tops the list of potential interviewers, as long as they are willing to shell out another huge sum of money.

The network's questionable behavior comes in the form of a we'll scratch your back if you scratch ours reward. It reflects poorly on them to be so closely associated with a woman who the world has condemned as guilty, but if ABC lands the interview with her, it will have been worth the investment to them.

After speaking with an ABC News representative who said the network would "love" to interview Anthony, E! Online is speculating that if ABC does in fact land the interview, the spot could go to newly hired Katie Couric.

"We are very interested in Casey Anthony," said a source at ABC News. "Like everyone else, we're following her case very closely, and we would love to have that get."

[...]

"This is something that would be ideal for Katie Couric doing as her first big get. Talk about making a first impression."

Besides the Anthony trial, as the Washington Post reports, ABC has a history in making risky investments with less-than-ethical people. They paid $15,000 to Meagan Broussard, one of the women former Rep. Anthony Weiner texted, for pictures and an interview. They also offered $10,000 to Sheena Upton, the mom who claimed to have injected Botox into the face of her 8-year-old beauty queen daughter, but rescinded the offer when Upton admitted it was a hoax.

Paying off sources is never seen as the most respectable journalistic practice, especially if ABC hopes to preserve some semblance of journalistic integrity in wrapping up coverage on the Casey Anthony trial.