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Is ABC Using Gibson-Lagasse "Feud" as Marketing Tool?

All the world loves conflict and personality bashing. If you doubt that, look at the favorite fodder of news programs, reality TV, and talking head political programs. (That is, if you can tell the difference among them these days.) And ABC is pushing an in-house domestic tousle, with chef Emeril Lagasse and evening news anchor Charlie Gibson both claiming that the other stole some recipe for an enchilada casserole. But when you look at what's going on, the aroma you ultimately get is not Tex-Mex, but promotion.

I learned of the whole issue not because I follow Good Morning America or Lagasse, but because I just received an email from a PR person at ABC. In the email was a copy of a post on the daily blog of ABC's World News. Given the outlet, you might expect something serious, or at least something remotely connected to news. But no. The rant is titled, Charlie Gibson Defends 'Stolen' Enchilada Casserole Recipe. Gibson has a link to a Good Morning America segment touting ABC's recipe site. Lagasse was on. When discussing the listed anchors' favorite recipes, he made a comment about Gibson having stolen Lagasse's enchilada casserole recipe.

Seem odd? Just wait, because it gets stranger. Gibson defends the recipe as clearly not originating with Lagasse, as it:

consists, essentially, of a can of chili with beans, a can of tomato sauce and a can of enchilada sauce along with a bag of Doritos, some cheese, onions and sour cream.
Ah, mention of a brand name product on the ABC news site. Wouldn't "corn chips" have worked? Probably, and with less potential perception of a product placement deal.

Gibson then goes on to credit the recipe to a friend, Mary Corkran. To be fair, the recipe has appeared before, at least as early as 2002. But compare that version with the current one, and notice that Doritos was suddenly the first listed ingredient.

After a few remarks to Lagasse, Gibson then goes on:

I urge all readers of this blog -- to strike a blow for us regular cooking folk, and download the Enchilada Casserole recipe -- Mary Corkran's and Charlie Gibson's not Emeril Lagasse's Enchilada Casserole recipe -- and keep it the most-requested recipe in the history of Good Morning America.
I contacted both ABC and Frito-Lay, which owns the Doritos brand, about this story. I asked a Frito-Lay spokesperson whether the company had any involvement of, or even knowledge of, this back-and-forth. The spokesperson flatly said, "We do not have a product placement deal with Charlie Gibson, ABC, or Emeril Lagasse," and made a call to double-check whether this was true.

Of course, that doesn't mean the network wouldn't be tracking the results in terms of web page visits with plans to eventually approach Frito-Lay or some other company about future deals. That is certainly what the exchange seems to suggest, so I asked the ABC PR person who, unasked, originally sent me the post and link in the first place, the following:

Is there a direct commercial relationship between Frito-Lay and this promotion of a tiff between Gibson and Lagasse? Or is ABC using this as an example to Frito-Lay of how the network can drive viewer attention to a brand?
Here is the answer I received:
There's nothing commercial about Charlie's tiff with Emeril or his love of this recipe. It's a Gibson family favorite (which originally came from a friend) that he introduced to the GMA audience in 2002. He's proud that it's remained one of the show's most requested recipes all of these years.
Oh, please, you have a regular, high-profile guest to Good Morning America and the anchor of ABC's major evening news program taking shots at each other, and then a PR person sends it out, and there is nothing commercial about it? At the very least it looks like a scheme to promote the shows, which, last I heard, were commercial ventures. And it does seem like the network is willing to mix involvement of personnel representing the news function with third-party products in a way that seems ultimately calculated to bring more attention to all of them. And what does such promotion do to the perception of normal journalistic ethics? Smacks them down with a "Bam!"
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