Wednesday, March 17, 2010

All night long

What are the responsibilities of a television station when it comes to its advertising?

This is not a hypothetical question.

We are often bombarded with infomercials when we turn on the television at odd hours. In fact, sometimes it is the same informercial, running at the same time on adjoining channels.

If you watch any of these shows, your suspicions about the content involved problem are raised. Then, if you do a little Internet research, you'll find more reason to wonder.

The person dominating late night right now is probably Kevin Trudeau. He's hawking a couple of books, one on natural cures and one on reducing debt. Then there's a series of CD's which supposedly offer valuable information provided by secret societies. Can't imagine what that might be like, but can't imagine it's worth three figures either.

Trudeau recently found himself facing a contempt of court charge for telling his associates that they should bombard a judge with e-mail in an effort to set him free. The Chicago judge wasn't amused. Funny that he's on the air so much now, after that episode. By the way, the informercial star once allegedly impersonated a doctor in order to cash $80,000 in bad checks back in the 1990's. That's the guy selling a book on natural cures. Hmm. Here's a look at him from ABC.

Then there's BetterTrades, a stock market system featuring that well-known financial wizard, Jimmy Johnson. That's ex-football coach Jimmy Johnson. Those who go to the free seminar discover something about a $3,000 fee for a six-month course, and a $6,000 cost to some sort of special computer software. Johnson, by the way, recently became a participant in infomercials for ExtenZe, which, um, supposedly deals in enlarging certain body parts. Does Jimmy need the money that badly?

I haven't seen much of Jeff Paul's Internet shortcuts ad lately, but it's usually a classic in comedy. They aren't up to Tom Vu's previous standards for women in skimpy outfits, but it's close. Jeff has done such great work over the years that there's a site called The last ad I saw was rather vague about the businesses involved and the overall costs assumed by buyers, and there are many reports of credit cards getting abused.

Many of us know enough not to spend any money on these ads, but some victims always emerge. But if it takes about five minutes of research to figure out that some might be less than honest, you'd think the television stadium involved could figure it out too ... and protect its customers.

And doesn't the television station have some sort of public responsibility to air honest ads? The disclaimer before and after the ad just doesn't cut it in terms of responsbility. After all, airing the ads at 7 p.m. against "Wheel of Fortune" might get noticed, and thus subject to attention by consumer groups and government agencies.

All this makes the television station seem like it would do almost anything to take in a few dollars for the airtime. It's easy to wonder about the cost of those dollars on its credibility.

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