Sunday, June 24, 2007

Plugs in the news?

We know how advertisers, concerned that TV viewers are TiVo-ing past commercials, have bought unavoidable "product placements" in programs themselves.

There's some sleaze to that to be sure, just as sold naming rights force us to utter commercial inanities like PGE Park or the Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival.

But what to make of what's going down in this front page story in Sunday's New York Times about George Bush's relationship with Mexican immigrants in Texas?

First, a little context. The story notes that the president, relatively liberal on the issue of amnesty for illegal immigrants, has met strong opposition from many of his Texas Republican backers. That has created strains, as described in this troubling sentence:

"It is visible on a grand scale, with ... this state's two Republican United States senators, Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, breaking with Mr. Bush on immigration in recent months after having followed his lead with Rolex reliability for most of his term."

"With Rolex reliability"?


Where did that little plug come from? Was someone asleep on the copy desk? Will the reporter, Jim Rutenberg, be getting a check, or a Rolex, in the mail? Is the Times cutting story placement deals with Rolex and others "sponsors"?

What can we expect next?

Is the president in Allstate-worthy good hands?

Is his policy as American as a Chevy Silverado?

In short, is business at the Times so bad that it is selling paid sponsorships in its news stories?

I don't think so, but at a time when media seem desperately willing to sell just about anything to the highest bidder, product name dropping in news stories does more than simply raise this reader's brows.

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