During Tuesday’s NBC Nightly News, one of the segments focused on a movie set to be released in theaters January 16 starring Julianne Moore as a woman faced with Alzheimers. While the movie, entitled “Still Alice,” focuses on an important topic and covering upcoming movie releases is nothing new for the networks, an executive producer for the movie is none other than NBC News correspondent Maria Shriver.
In what was already a conflict of interest by covering the movie, the network also allowed Shriver to play the role of reporter in promoting a venture that could benefit her financially in a two-minute-and-28-second segment.
As The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi noted on Wednesday, the move goes against many of the basic tenets of journalism when it comes to conflicts of interest:
By long tradition, journalists are obliged to avoid having a personal stake in the stories they cover. Such conflicts of interest potentially undermine the credibility of the journalist and his or her news organization. A vested interest, after all, could lead viewers or readers to conclude that a story was reported not for its news value but for the journalist’s personal gain.
Farhi went on in his article to include comment from an NBC spokeswoman, who defended the story:
This was an important public health story about early onset Alzheimer’s — a little-known aspect of one of America’s most deadly diseases. Maria Shriver has long been an advocate for medical research to fight Alzheimer’s. Her connection to the issue is well known, and her link to the film that explores it was disclosed to the audience before the piece aired.
Also, Farhi pointed out that executive producers often “help arrange financing for a movie and share in any profits.” As stated before, none of that was disclosed by NBC or Shriver. Shriver’s segment merely explained the movie, had an interview with Moore and her consultant for the film, who happens to currently be fighting the disease herself.
Not surprisingly, Shriver heaped plenty of praise for the movie and the performance of its star actress. Shriver ended her segment by gushing that Moore’s “performance” is “bringing new attention to a devastating disease.”
While anchor Brian Williams did note Shriver’s personal connection to the disease as it took the life of her father, there was no mention that her $15,000 fee for doing the film would be donated to a charity dedicated to brain research that she will be starting.
This conflict of interest with Shriver and NBC was far from the first such occasion. Nearly a year ago in 2014, Shriver served as both the reporter and activist for a segment on NBC Nightly News as she touted on her personal desire to help close the gender wage gap from the White House following a meeting with President Obama.
Writing at the time for NewsBusters, Matt Hadro reported that Obama gave her his support as she touted him as someone who is “‘sympathetic’ to working single mothers.” While she was adamant that Obama wanted to address the problem, she lamented that “Congress has been slow to respond.”