NBC News covers expenses for 15 to secure ‘Today’ interview with rescued Nevada family

December 15, 2013

NBC News provided all-expenses-paid trips to New York City to the extended family of a Nevada couple, as well as the couple’s attorney and his family, to secure the couple’s cooperation for an exclusive interview on the “Today” show.

The network paid for a five-day trip to Manhattan for 15 people connected to James Glanton and his girlfriend, Christina McIntee. The couple survived for two days in subzero temperatures with two of their children and McIntee’s niece and nephew after their car went off the road and plunged over an embankment in Nevada’s Seven Troughs mountain range last week.

Glanton and McIntee and the four children involved in the incident are scheduled to appear on Monday’s “Today” show.

NBC said it paid no money to the family for its participation, a practice known as “checkbook journalism” that is considered ethically dubious among mainstream news organizations.

But even without cash changing hands, the arrangement with the family is unusual. While morning TV shows routinely fly people to their New York studios for live interviews, they rarely foot the expenses for more than two or three days and almost never include so many people in the entourage. In this case, the group includes the couple’s attorney, his wife and their children. (NBC did not identify the attorney.)

NBC News has been involved in two instances since August in which it paid more than $100,000 for interviews, photos and home recordings of newsworthy people.

The first involved Hannah Anderson, the California teenager kidnapped by a family friend who was suspected of murdering her mother and brother. The second involved a group of Wisconsin skydivers who survived a spectacular midair collision of their small planes in early November.

Glanton and McIntee were hotly pursued by network interviewers last week after their harrowing story captured national headlines. Among others, NBC News beat out ABC News, which was seeking the couple and the children, ages 3 to 10, for an appearance on “Good Morning America.”

“GMA” has surpassed “Today” in the ratings to become the leading morning news program, the most profitable in the broadcast networks’ news divisions. Both programs compete fiercely with each other for exclusive interviews, especially those involving human-interest stories.

NBC News spokeswoman Ali Zelenko said there was nothing unusual about its efforts to persuade the Nevada family to appear on “Today.”

“The family has chosen to appear on the ‘Today’ show because they wanted an interview with substance and they knew they’d get it from us,” she said. “Six people will appear on our set, including children age 10 and under from two families, so we flew in a group across the country and, given the length of the flight and the fact that children are traveling, the return trip will take a few days.”

“This is standard practice in television booking,” Zelenko added, “and anyone who says otherwise is just disappointed they weren’t the outlet chosen by the family.”

She declined to explain why the couple’s attorney and family were included.

Paul Farhi is The Washington Post's media reporter.
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