NBC’s decision to allow Today Show co-host Savannah Guthrie and Allison Oppenheim, the wife of network president Noah Oppenheim, to promote their book on-air raises ethical questions about self-dealing.
The book, “Princesses Wear Pants,” illustrated by Eva Byrne — who did not appear during any promotions on NBC — was released in September and centers around female empowerment. Guthrie and Oppenheim appeared on both “The Today Show” and “Megyn Kelly Today” to promote the book.
The free airtime its authors received on “Today” — commonly seen as the second most lucrative spot for a book release after “60 Minutes”– strikes some, including present employees at NBC, as an unprecedented overreach by Oppenheim.
NBC insiders say that Oppenheim, described as an aloof executive, is deeply resented for what is viewed as profiteering through his screenplays and book projects. “Princesses Wear Pants” has struck a chord among staffers in particular because, as one insider told The Daily Caller News Foundation, “it’s the only segment idea he’s contributed to the Today Show in years.”
“It’s an insult to us who actually produce television here — how he waltzes in and treats the ‘Today Show’ as his personal piggy bank,” an insider said. “It’s also a real disservice to parents as it’s a truly terrible children’s book. Maurice Sendak these women are not.”
Lois Boynton, a media ethics professor at the University of North Carolina’s School of Media and Journalism, said the arrangement raises questions about whether Guthrie and Oppenheim only got the spot on the show because of their relation to the network.
“The … question, then, is whether the authors used their positions to get on the show – or, if the book segment staff members felt they had to select this children’s book because of who the authors are in relation to the ‘Today Show’ and NBC,” Boynton explained. “Viewers and readers may be skeptical about the impact of the perceived power Ms. Oppenheim and Ms. Guthrie hold, whether that perception is accurate or not.”
Veteran journalist and communications professor Jeffrey McCall argued that profits from the book be donated to charity to avoid the appearance that the authors are self-dealing.
“It would be best if the profits from this book, and others to follow, would be directed to charity. Presumably, Guthrie and Oppenheim don’t really need the income and, thus, this NBC free air time could be rationalized as supporting a worthy cause of some sort,” he said.
However, a spokesperson for NBC told TheDCNF that the book promotion was “standard practice” and seemed to deny speculation that Oppenheim and Guthrie’s book was given special treatment.
“The book was featured on TODAY because it’s on a topic that matters to our viewers, and it was authored by the anchor of TODAY,” the spokesperson said. “Pretty standard stuff for a morning show. But thanks for caring so much about something that was on the show five months ago, and was widely covered at the time.”
Oppenheim and Guthrie have said they are considering sequels.
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