A CBS producer who led the network's coverage of the recent Michael Jackson trial has been marketing a brand of wine under the label "Jesus Juice," complete with a logo of a Christ figure sporting a Jacksonesque red glove, fedora hat, white socks, and penny loafers
NewsBusters.org has learned that Bruce Rheins, a high-level producer for such shows as the "CBS Evening News", and his wife, Dawn Westlake, began preparations for their marketing campaign while the Jackson case was still in court, registering a U.S. trademark for the words "Jesus Juice" in January of 2004, days after word got out that Jackson referred to wine by that term in allegedly attempting to seduce young boys.
A year later, the couple registered (under Westlake's name) the web domain JesusJuice.biz, apparently with the intent of partnering with a wine maker to create a product line bearing the Jesus Juice name, in a partnership or by purchasing the trademark.
"Should you want to start something with us (i.e. you're a vintner with a sense of humor, but a seriously good line of wines, visit us here and drop a note…In the meantime, we'll be moonwalking over our own grapes.)" Westlake wrote in an online diary entry on her personal web site.
The trial ended June 13, 2005 when Jackson was acquitted of all charges.
Rheins's marketing of Jesus Juice wine (and apparel) raises some troubling journalistic issues since he was attempting to profit from a story which he was personally covering for the "CBS Evening News."
"You can't be the lead producer on the West Coast by day and then turn around and sell t-shirts and wine by night," says a CBS insider.
Jennifer Siebens, the network's L.A. bureau chief, had to have known about his extracurricular activities, the insider says.
"It's a very small bureau. There's no way Siebens and others wouldn't have known he was doing this. He and his wife hang out with them all the time. Now, had the people in New York known, that's another story. He'd probably have been fired."
That a CBS News producer saw it as appropriate to put his name on something that many would consider to be offensive is also problematic. How can viewers trust CBS's reports on religious or cultural issues when one of its top producers is creating anti-Christian spoofs and attempting to profit from them?
Rheins is well aware of accusations of bias. On his personal site, the producer seems to take pleasure in seeing others accuse him of being unfair.
"Everyone thinks I am purposely
biased against them. Yet they sure watch my work closely, to make sure I don't
upset their world view. I take comfort in this inadvertent power I seem to have
in their lives."
UPDATE: Since this story broke, Rheins has begun trying to spin his way out of the story. See the update here.