A Planted Story on Ethanol Plants

Five stations run an optimistic news feature that's secretly fueled by profit

Submitted by Daniel Price on
Clients: Siemens AG
Release Date: January 2006
Aired By: 5 stations
Disclosed By: No stations

If you thought your job was tough, try being Kate Brookes, a local ABC news reporter in Nevada, a CBS reporter in Texas, a Fox reporter in Missouri, and an ABC reporter (again) in Louisiana.

Actually, Brookes isn't a reporter at all. She just plays one on TV. In reality, she's a publicist for Medialink, the world's first and largest provider of video news releases (VNRs). And yet, many TV stations have no problem adopting her into their newscasts as if she were one of their own.

In January 2006, Medialink sent Brookes to Iowa to shoot a VNR on the "Ethanol boom," the growing trend of using corn-based fuel as an alternative energy source. The two-minute feature included all-positive testimony from two industry experts, an ethanol plant builder, and a local corn farmer.

One can assume that Medialink didn't hold Brookes to any standards of journalistic objectivity, considering that the VNR was funded by Siemens AG, a worldwide engineering corporation who supplies process automation systems to two-thirds of the ethanol plants in the United States.

Medialink publicist Kate Brookes, as she appears on the original VNR (left), on KTNV-13 in Las Vegas (center), and on KFJX-14 in Joplin, Missouri (right).

The VNR was distributed to TV newsrooms on January 13. Over the next week, five stations—KOSA-7 (Odessa, TX), KTNV-13 (Las Vegas, NV), WBRZ-2 (Baton Rouge, LA), WCIA-3 (Champaign, IL) and KFJX-14 (Joplin, MO)—blended the story into their newscast, replacing all visuals with network-branded graphics and introducing Brookes as if she were on their news team. All five stations inserted custom-branded text overlays onto the video, and each station edited the story slightly for length, except for KFJX-14, which ran a complete and uncut version of the VNR.

None of the stations supplemented the VNR with original reporting, or even alluded to the scientific, economic or environmental debates about ethanol. Worst of all, not a single station told their viewers that the story was produced by publicists and funded by a corporation with a direct financial stake in the ethanol business.

In the same month, Kate Brookes narrated a second VNR from Medialink and Siemens, about the company's line of state-of-the-art car components.

View the original VNR, as well as the KTNV news story, below.

Original Siemens VNR KTNV-13 6PM newscast
Created by Medialink January 19, 2006
Reported by Kate Brookes Reported by Kate Brookes