CNN Changes Endorsement Policy to Accommodate John Walsh

When CNN hired John Walsh to host "The Hunt," the network was aware that Walsh was a pitchman and VP for GreatCall a company that create more accessible cell phones for seniors.

It has been a long standing policy at the network that CNN employees were not allowed to make product endorsements.

However, according to TKNN, it appears that CNN is changing that rule in order to accommodate the stars of the CNN Original Series.

TKNN says that GreatCall would be using Walsh to endorse their and some of their advertising campaign would be airing on CNN.

A GreatCall spokeswoman confirmed to TKNN that the advertisements would not be airing during The Hunt with John Walsh. She said that the company would not run commercials during the program as to not confuse Walsh’s two “roles.”

On July 28, Charles Mozdir was killed in a shoot-out with police. The Hunt had featured Mozdir and a tip from a viewer led police to find the fugitive. After the police announced the news, Walsh was on several of CNN’s news programs talking about the events. When he wasn’t on, CNN news programs showed clips.. Here, GreatCall’s policy of not mixing up the two “roles” takes a hit. Walsh in his The Hunt capability and possibly the commercials would be seen together. In addition, CNN usually runs lower thirds promoting The Hunt during the news programs. In an email exchange about the commercials and the promotions for The Hunt appearing, the GreatCall spokeswoman said that she couldn’t hypothesize on it.

When TKNN reached out to the spokeswoman for The Hunt, she said in a phone interview that Walsh and his show does not apply to the no-endorsement policy because he does not host a “breaking news show.” However, Professor Jane Kirtley of the University of Minnesota disagrees. She said in a phone interview that she does not believe that on-air personalities should make endorsements. She said that Walsh could be compared to Alex Trebek, who is not a journalist, but people see him as a trustworthy figure because of his role on Jeopardy! Trebek does have an endorsement deal with Colonial Penn, a life insurance company.

When talking to Professor Robert Drechsel of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he said that Walsh’s association with CNN makes the suggestion that The Hunt is a journalism program. He said that it is highly unlikely that any newsroom would permit the kind of partnership that Walsh has with GreatCall. Professor Drechsel also said that this situation is “significant” and poses much more of an ethical issue for CNN than it is for Walsh.

CNN prides itself on its objectivity and impartiality, employees at the network talk about how CNN doesn’t take sides. However, a product endorsement would run contrary to that. However, Original Series are ratings winners.