Doctored News

Publicist Delivers "Health Report" at Two Newscasts

Submitted by Daniel Price on
Clients: Siemens Oncology
Release Date: August 2006
Aired By: 2 stations
Disclosed By: No stations

For the second time, KSFY-13 (Sioux Falls, SD) took a video news release (VNR) from medical industry publicists and dropped it—complete and uncut—into their morning newscast. Unlike the earlier instance documented in this report, KSFY-13 completely failed this time to disclose the true source of the story to its viewers.

On August 22, 2006, the station aired a two-minute health report on MVision, an elaborate new medical device from Siemens Oncology that provides doctors with a three-dimensional image of a patient's tumor, thus allowing them to treat the cancer with more accurate radiation therapy. The story featured numerous all-positive soundbites from Frederick Linder, a prostate cancer patient; Dr. Jean Pouliot, an oncologist at a San Francisco cancer center; and Andreas Schlatter, a representative from Siemens Oncology. The "reporter," Kate Brookes, closed the segment by calling MVision "a development that has the potential to revolutionize the way we treat cancer."

Medialink's Brookes, falsely identified as a reporter by KSFY-13Sadly, KSFY-13's audience had no way of knowing that the entire health report was lifted frame-by-frame from a VNR created by Medialink Worldwide on behalf of its client, Siemens Oncology. Nor could viewers tell that Kate Brookes was actually a publicist, not a journalist. In introducing the story, KSFY-13 morning anchor Meagan Dorsch tossed to the story to Brookes as if she were a reporter at the station: "As Kate Brookes explains, recent advances are helping doctors treat tumors faster, safer, and more precisely."

In addressing his station's use of VNRs, KSFY-13 news director Mitch Krebs told the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) that "we like to run disclosure...but sometimes a producer might not understand the rules."

On August 28, the Siemens VNR made a brief appearance on "First Business", a nationally-syndicated financial news program that appears early mornings on 191 stations across the United States. The 30-second segment, presented by Medialink's Brookes, contained narrative material not available in the original VNR. It's not known if the content was gathered from supplementary footage (B-roll) provided with the VNR or if it was specially-prepared by Medialink for use on "First Business."

CMD has observed Kate Brookes "reporting" for Medialink and Siemens on multiple occasions. In January 2006, she presented a pro-ethanol story on behalf of Siemens AG, which supplies processing systems to two-thirds of America's ethanol plants. Five stations used the complete VNR without any disclosure. Later that month, she was featured in a VNR on modular car components manufactured by Siemens' automobile division. It was used without attribution by three stations.

Six days before KSFY-13 ran the Siemens VNR, the station had aired a report on a new diagnostic tool for kidney disease that was taken whole-cloth from a privately-funded VNR. In that instance, disclosure was only provided because the VNR's creator—D S Simon Productions—had recently updated their procedures to embed the client information in the VNR itself. Two months later, KSFY-13 aired yet another undisclosed VNR, promoting a cold remedy.

Original Siemens VNR KSFY-13 5:30 AM newscast
Created by Medialink August 22, 2006
Voiced by publicist Voiced by publicist