Dual role raises ethical questions

Man paid by manufacturer of Xenadrine a reporter at Bechler news conference

March 15, 2003|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

As Broward County (Fla.) medical examiner Joshua Perper set out his conclusions in the death of Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler at a news conference Thursday, one person distinguished himself from the rest of the media pack.

A New York Police Department press pass hung around Bryan Glazer's neck, and he wore a CNN pin on the lapel of his suit. But his questions were far more aggressive than those posed by the reporters sent by magazines, newspapers and television stations. And Glazer, a former Florida local reporter, was paid by a very different kind of employer: the manufacturer of the dietary supplement implicated by Perper in Bechler's death.

Glazer is president and executive producer for World Satellite Television News. The small firm, with five full-time employees, tapes interviews and does public relations work for private clients. It has offices in Florida and New York.

But he plays an unusually ambidextrous role as pitchman and correspondent: Glazer has done freelance reporting for CNN's feed for affiliate stations and other major outlets. Currently, however, his client is Cytodyne, which makes Xenadrine RFA-1. Bechler used the ephedrine-based pills, which are believed to help in weight reduction.

"I'm not a person disguised as a TV reporter," said Glazer, who later acknowledged his role to those who asked his identity. "I'm a hired gun TV reporter ... I have credibility on both sides."

He said he was only appearing at the news conference because the media coverage of the effects of ephedrine had become wildly unbalanced in the wake of Bechler's death last month. Glazer and his camera crew produced a "video news release."

Local television stations often take such video news releases and narrate suggested scripts nearly verbatim. In this case, the video release packaged together excerpts of Perper's remarks with statements from company officials and other medical professionals who cast doubt on the links between ephedra and heatstroke, Bechler's immediate cause of death. Glazer said many local stations throughout the country relied upon his video feed.

"The reporters there weren't asking him pressing questions," Glazer says. "The news media is lazy. They don't always get both sides of the story. Maybe the coroner, he makes some good points. But his word is not gospel."

Only after the third or fourth increasingly skeptical question, Perper said, did he realize Glazer was less than objective.

"He asked them like this was a kind of cross-examination," Perper said in an interview yesterday. "He was someone who tries to disguise his identity. Rather than enhancing the public image of the company, it rather smears it, in my opinion."

David Blum, senior vice president for Eisner Communications, a marketing and public relations firm, was not present at the event, but said Glazer's behavior was inappropriate.

"He's obviously posing as someone he's not," Blum said. "That really violates a lot of the ethical standards set out by the PR profession."

Glazer defended his actions by contending "there was a problem with fairness and balance in the reporting" on the ephedrine product's role. "I wanted those questions answered on videotape so people could hear them," he said.

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