Memo to Chuck Todd: TMZ and the ‘National Enquirer’ Aren’t The Only Ones That Pay For Stories

By Alex Weprin 

NBC News White House correspondent and MSNBC “Daily Rundown” anchor Chuck Todd appeared on “Morning Joe” today to talk about the U.K. hacking scandal (above), and he questioned whether U.S. news outlets would face the same scrutiny as their U.K. brethren:

What has Murdoch done that TMZ hasn’t done and why does what TMZ does legal, but when Rupert Murdoch does it, it is illegal?

What I’m saying is: would this be the beginning of the end of what — basically the horrendous nature of TMZ, National Enquirer, sort of, the road they went down in our world does that put them? Does that maybe put them in a place that — where they are more vile, reviled than now?

To answer Todd’s question:

News of the World is being accused of illegally hacking into voicemail boxes, and paying off police to not investigate the hackings. No one is accusing the American outlets of doing that. News also paid sources for scoops, which is in line with what TMZ and National Enquirer do.

Of course, the TV news equivalent of the tabloids–the network morning shows–also effectively pay for stories when they license photos and videos in exchange for exclusive interviews. ABC’s “Good Morning America” and NBC’s “Today” are particularly aggressive in that practice.

While paying sources for scoops and interviews is ugly, as Gawker’s John Cook notes, it also helps bring the truth to light. For example, without the National Enquirer, it is unclear whether the full extent of John Edwards‘ actions would have been made public. Gawker has no qualms with acknowledging that it pays for stories.

The National Enquirer may be a sleazy tabloid, but its amoral tactics nailed Sen. Rockefeller’s former colleague John Edwards in perhaps the most stunning political story since Monica Lewinsky. Yes, any criminal hacking that occurred in the jurisdiction of the U.S. ought to be investigated. But it would be rather unseemly if Rockefeller were to end up targeting the sort of “bribery” that can ferret out cheating senators.