No Accounting for Ethics

Southern ABC station runs a rock & roll news story planted by CPAs

Submitted by Daniel Price on
Clients: American Institute of Certified Public Accountants
Release Date: December 2005
Aired By: 1 station
Disclosed By: No stations

When you think of rock music and video games, you probably don't think of the American Institute of Certified Practicing Accountants (AICPA). But in 2005, the professional trade group was looking to change all that, with a little help from an unscrupulous TV station.

Last year, the AICPA launched The Turnaround Game, a free web-based simulation program that allows users to run the financial end of a fictional record label. The game is part of a larger promotional effort designed to put a hip and modern spin on the accounting profession, and to interest more high school and college students in a career as a Certified Public Accountant.

As part of the promotion, the AICPA hired D S Simon Productions to create a video news release (VNR) about The Turnaround Game. The two-minute segment, narrated by D S Simon publicist Will Harris, includes praising testimony from two students who played the game, as well as two professors who deem the simulation to be educational as well as fun. The VNR was announced and distributed to TV newsrooms on December 13.

WTVM-9—a small ABC affiliate in Columbus, Georgia—decided to pick up the story. But what the station lacked in quantity, it made up for in lack-of-quality. WTVM-9 ran the VNR without a single editorial change. Evening anchor Kari Tornabene introduced the feature and its fake reporter (who she called "Bill" Harris) as if they both belonged to the station.

Not once did WTVM-9 tell its viewers that the entire story was provided by a public relations firm, or that it was funded by an industry trade group which would benefit from the coverage.

View the original VNR, as well as the WTVM-9 news story, below.

Original AICPA VNR WTVM-9 5:30PM newscast
Created by D S Simon Productions December 13, 2005
Voiced by publicist Voiced by publicist