The story of ABC's Good Morning America and the Botox Mom has become the latest tabloid licensing tale to explode in the wake of Adweek's report last week on little-known British producer Barcroft Media. Barcoft, a company that has been known to stage news events so it can sell footage to clients worldwide, including the U.S. networks, operates much like Claire Stevens Limited, the tabloid supplier in the middle of the Botox scandal.
In a story that first aired May 12, GMA detailed how a California mother, Kerry Campbell, allegedly gave her 8-year-old daughter Botox injections to prepare her for the beauty pagent circuit. The tale got massive pickup, and prompted San Francisco Child Welfare Services to launch an investigation into the matter; ABC later reported that Campbell had lost custody of her daughter.
Since then, Campbell has recanted her story. She says that her real name is Sheena Upton, not Kelly Campbell, and that the U.K. tabloid The Sun paid her $200 to act a fictional part in a fabricated story. Upton says the photos of her daughter receiving Botox were staged (and that Botox itself was never actually involved). Reports claim that GMA signed a $10,000 licensing contract with her representative, Claire Stevens Limited, for use of photos that appeared in its TV stories. Good Morning America has confirmed it signed a contract with Upton’s reps, but says it has withheld payment in light of the recent controversy.
For its part, The Sun says that Upton is lying, and that the paper never paid her to play any role. Privately, sources at ABC say that the jury is still out on the whole matter and that they are investigating, but suggest that there's a possibility Campbell's story as initially reported could be true.
U.S. television news organizations have come to rely on these tabloid middlemen like Barcroft and Stevens to bring them some of their juiciest—and most popular—stories. All of these networks say they have strict ethics rules in place that forbid paying for interviews or access to story sources. But the licensing arrangements with outside organizations appear to allow them to regularly skirt these guidelines.