What neither Rhodes nor WTTG mentioned to viewers was this: The companies Rhodes mentioned on the air had paid her to plug their products. In effect, Rhodes’s appearance was a kind of stealth commercial dressed up as a traditional product-review interview.
By Paul Farhi,
Published: December 6, 2011
Such product-friendly segments aren’t just potentially deceptive; they’re illegal, under a federal law that prohibits “payola” or “plugola,” as the practice is commonly known. Yet similar types of segments have grown as TV stations have expanded their early-morning newscasts over the past decade, packing them with “expert” reviews. And they are especially rife during the holiday gift-giving season.
Rhodes is one of a small army of hosts and reviewers of fashion, toys, electronic gadgets and other consumer-oriented topics who pop up on morning news shows with advice about what to buy. The advice almost always involves products from companies that have paid the expert to slip in a few favorable words. The disclosures about this arrangement can range from minimal to nonexistent.