In response to persistent rumors that ABC paid Anthony Rakoczy for exclusive access, the network denied yesterday that it had reached a quid-pro-quo financial arrangement with Bonnie Sweeten's ex-husband.
An ABC News spokesman said the network had bought a coach ticket on a commercial airline for Rakoczy to fly to Florida to claim his daughter Julia and two tickets for their return flight.
The spokesman said those details would be disclosed during reports about the father-and-child reunion on Nightline last night and today on Good Morning America.
A producer and crew from the morning show accompanied Rakoczy on both legs of the journey yesterday.
According to ABC, Rakoczy chose to avoid other reporters because he felt overwhelmed by the crush of interview requests, not because he was paid to avoid them.
"ABC News does not pay for interviews," the spokesman said.
That has always been the stated policy of the news divisions at all the networks. (The morning shows, as part of their news departments, observe the same rule.)
All forms of legitimate journalism maintain the stricture of not paying for interviews. For important reasons.
"The competitive relationship between reporters is part of what ensures that the news gets out," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. If money is exchanged, "you change the source-reporter relationship in ways that are potentially problematic for both."
Yet allegations of payment often arise when the networks jostle for a coveted, high-profile "get." In those cases, the boundaries of nonpayment can get blurred.
"Money ending up in the pocket of a source happens not infrequently," television-news analyst Andrew Tyndall said. "There are many ruses that producers use. They can pay for photo [or video] rights for images that they use. They can offer, as it appears to be in this case, advances or expenses as long as it doesn't appear to be a payment. That provides them the deniabilty of 'We don't pay sources,' even though functionally, money does end up changing hands."