Are Beck and Hannity's FoodInsurance.com endorsements violating Fox News policy?

Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

In June, FoodInsurance.com, which markets food kits for emergencies and natural disasters, announced in a press release that Sean Hannity became the company's "newest spokesperson." The release noted that FoodInsurance.com is also "endorsed by Glenn Beck." In recent months, Beck has repeatedly plugged the company on his radio show.

FoodInsurance.com's language about Hannity and Beck evokes a controversy from last year when questions were raised about Beck endorsing and being identified as a "paid spokesman" for Goldline International. The New York Times reported in December 2009 that Fox News has a policy that "prohibits any on-air talent from endorsing products or serving as a product spokesperson."

Joel Cheatwood, the senior vice president of development for Fox News, reportedly said it would be "problematic without question" if Mr. Beck did have a position as a paid spokesman for a product. A Beck spokesman told the Times that he shouldn't have been identified as "a 'paid spokesman' because he did not receive separate fees beyond the sponsorship for that or any other work he did for the company."

Media Matters contacted FoodInsurance.com for clarification about whether Hannity or Beck received fees from the company on an individual basis and sent the Times' December article on Fox News' policy.

A spokesman for FoodInsurance.com replied through email: "Obviously, as you know, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity endorse our product. We only do radio advertising with these gentlemen, and I wouldn't know what kind of agreements they have in their cable TV contracts."

As Media Matters' has noted, Beck has done paid radio ads for FoodInsurance.com, and turned those radio ads into monologues for his Fox News show about rising commodities prices (without the explicit pitch for the company he does on his radio program). While discussing the topic on Fox News, Beck does not disclose that FoodInsurance.com is his radio advertiser.

FoodInsurance.com's website currently displays the words, "as recommended on the Glenn Beck Program" at the top of its website, and a video testimonial from Beck. Beck's own website runs banner ads for Food Insurance:

Beck had previously promoted the company UPillar.com on Fox News without disclosing that the company is one of his paid radio sponsors. After criticism from Media Matters, Beck noted the company sponsors his radio program when he mentioned them yesterday.

Politico's Ken Vogel reported in a December 17, 2009, article that "Fox policy barring hosts from serving as paid spokespeople is industry standard, said Columbia University journalism professor Todd Gitlin because it guards networks' credibility against 'the taint of self interest.' But he said, no matter what Goldline calls Beck, 'the situation clearly crosses the line. If Beck is not serving as a paid spokesperson, then he must be the tooth fairy.'"

Vogel also quoted a spokesman for Goldline stating that the company doesn't "influence the content of either his radio show or this television show ... Fox's point - and I think I have to agree with it - is that we are not paying Glenn Beck outside of his radio show to do endorsements for Goldline."

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