T Dog’s Think Tank: Did Journalists cross the line? Nope, they annihilated it

Walter E. Smithe Furniture recently released a two-minute commercial honoring the 22-year legacy of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. Among those who appeared in the ad were local celebrities like George Wendt, Eric Ferguson from WTMX’s Eric & Kathy, fictional Alderman Ed Bus (from the 53rd Ward), and a few other Chicago dignitaries.

Oh, and there were some local news anchors from three TV stations.

In fact, CBS-owned WBBM-TV’s Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson – who both recently returned to anchoring the station’s 6 pm newscast – congratulated Daley on his tenure – right from the newsroom.

Among other news people who appeared in the ad include NBC-owned WMAQ’s Allison Rosati and Natalie Martinez, and Fox-owned WFLD’s Bob Sirott. Also appearing was WMAQ GM Larry Wert. Some of the short interviews were shot at a party at the Paris Club thrown by Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Inc. on April 14 honoring Daley, and the interviews were complied into the two-minute video.

Guess the Smithe brothers couldn’t find time to squeeze in news anchor Tom Tucker from Family Guy.

The matter was brought up last week in Robert Feder’s blog in Time Out Chicago, who questioned why the journalists appeared in the ad, their fawning over Daley, and whether or not their appearance violated journalism ethics. Shortly thereafter, Walter E. Smithe edited the WBBM and WFLD journalists out of the ad on their website, but the full two-minute ad was still available on YouTube as of this writing.

Then it was learned that WBBM officials did not grant Smithe permission to use their personnel in the video, leading the furniture chain’s sales and marketing chief (Tim Smithe) to apologize for doing so.

The video from Smithe was nauseating and painful to watch to say the least. You need to grab a barf bag when you watch – just be careful not to vomit all other the new furniture you bought from there. While creative advertising is a must in an era where you can skip over any spot with a DVR, The Smithes try way too hard. What is attended to be creative instead turns out to be annoying.

For the record, Smithe has only one store in Chicago proper – in the city’s affluent Lincoln Park neighborhood. In fact, Smithe has no stores in Chicago’s Southland – not even in just-as-affluent Flossmoor or Olympia Fields – let alone the South Side, sans for a store in Orland Park. Daley must’ve given Smithe some um… favors (tax breaks!) for that one Chicago store. Why else would the Smithes would be praising him?

But the big thing here is the journalists inclusion in the ads.

It’s kind of jarring to see them kissing up to Daley – kind of off-putting to say the least – especially when the guy hasn’t exactly been friendly to the media. I pointed this out in a Think Tank from April 13, 2008 (Can you smell what the Mayor is Cookin?) Daley ripped into Chicago’s two major newspapers for criticizing his idea of moving the Children’s museum from Navy Pier to Grant Park.

Not once has Daley or his administration said anything about the dangers of media consolidation or the frat antics at the Tribune Tower. But he did find time to endorse Comcast’s (a leader in providing lousy service and raising rates faster than the rate of inflation) 51 percent purchase of NBCUniversal.

Wow, no wonder WMAQ boss Larry Wert was eager to appear in the Smithe video.

Most galling of all was Kurtis and Jacobson taped their congrats to Daley from the news desk – yes, the very place Jacobson has often criticized Daley for his policies in his Perspective. How could WBBM not know what was going on here? Do we now take Jacobson seriously the next time he rips into a politician? The Church of Tisch might as well hire Jim Parsons from The Big Bang Theory or even Carl from Aqua Teen Hunger Force to front those Perspective segments instead.

Not surprisingly, many have filed this in the “who cares” file. Probably because our expectations – not to mention the bar – for local news and for television in general have lowered so much, its practically on the floor. Remember when yours truly slammed the writers of The Simpsons for changing the backstory of the series of one episode? They still have jobs and The Simpsons still isn’t as funny as it used to be. As I pointed out, TV viewers watch the tube passively these days, not actively. They could care less about the quality of what’s on the screen as long as they’re entertained (see Celebrity Apprentice and Jersey Shore.) Quality television? Quality writing? Quality journalism? That’s about as outdated as the Compact Disc. Remember the slogan “Quality is Job #1”? In the television business, it’s now #16.

Many – especially younger viewers – are not surprised because they already know local news is a joke for the most part. News execs can care less about attracting the next generation of news viewers (after all, The Church of Tisch did rehire Kurtis and Jacobson.) At 9 p.m., young viewers go to cable, not WGN and certainly not WFLD. At 10 p.m., they either go to Conan or The Daily Show on cable, not The 10 O’clock News. They know local news is a sham with the daily respite of shootings, stabbings, car crashes, killer garage doors, killer clowns, spaceships, government spaceships, and government corruption – some of which created by Daley’s own administration. Maybe this is a reason why these anchors appearing in a Daley tribute ad isn’t a big deal – many of them don’t even vote in city elections.

But aside from all that, it was time to party. At the end of the video, all the gang at the party gather around Daley and sing Our Kind Of Town.

But the journalists have to return to the newsroom to report on some breaking news: aliens who resemble¬† Glee’s Jane Lynch are about to land their spaceship in Dolton, and they’re ready to attack: armed with at least a million megaphones, they have a humongous plan to harm people’s eardrums.

Bill and Walter have dibs on that story.

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