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Should CBS News Have Paid Route 66 Tour Guides?

The New York Times' David Cay Johnston sent me an email concerning Wednesday night's "Evening News" story about Route 66. Toward the end of the piece, correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi noted that "John and Lenore Weiss head a historical group that's trying to preserve Route 66." John Weiss said "We always say that fun begins at the off ramp," and then Alfonsi chimed in again, saying, "So we hired them to take us there." (You can click on the video box to watch the story for yourself.)

Johnston expressed concern about the fact that CBS News "hired" the couple for the story. We asked Alfonsi for a little background information, and she emailed the following:

"They are full time Route 66 tour guides, and drove us around about 100 miles in their car. We paid them to show us the road, like any other customer."
I asked Linda Mason, CBS News senior vice president, standards and special projects, whether paying for the tour was a violation of CBS News standards.

"No, of course not," said Mason. "Especially because we disclosed it. He knew Route 66 – he was a specialist – and by disclosing it we're being totally transparent with our viewers."

Mason said disclosure was the key issue. "We disclose when we've paid somebody," she said. "Sometimes we do it by saying that the person is a CBS News analyst. Or a CBS News consultant. That's code for we paid this expert. Otherwise we would just say they're an energy analyst."

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