Tabloid Stories for Sale! The Dead-White-Girl Television Business

Cable and network television news outfits say they don’t pay for interviews — they say they don’t buy stories. But then there’s Larry Garrison, a proprietor of what Sheelah Kolhatkar calls “dead-white-girl television.”

Ms. Kolhatkar (a former Observer editrix) profiled Mr. Garrison for The Atlantic this month. He gets paid to bring material for tabloid stories — photos of Natalee Holloway, an interview with a friend Robert Blake’s dead wife, time with John Mark Karr, who falsely confessed to killing JonBenet Ramsey — to television news shows. Mr. Garrison’s business depends on being first to reach the sources in a given story and then positioning himself as a middleman for whatever happens afterwards. Book deals are especially good money for Mr. Garrison in the age of news-breaking checkbook websites like TMZ and shriveling television news budgets.

Mr. Garrison jumps on hot stories by keeping a dozen or so tipsters on retainer and diligently reading his Google Alerts. He plays the networks against each other. “They’re supposed to do CNN tomorrow,” he says to a producer for Good Morning America at one point in the piece, “but I can turn them for you if you’re interested.”

An anonymous source explains to Ms. Kolhatkar how networks skirt their policies of not buying stories:

“It’s a very defined underworld of behavior that people really don’t talk about,” said the former booker. “All the networks have policies not to pay.” Indeed, most network news divisions are officially prohibited from paying sources for interviews, but they can get around that problem in any number of ways. In addition to paying a fee to a middleman, rather than to a subject, the network might conduct the interview in a lavish location, with all expenses paid and tickets to Broadway shows or Disney World thrown in. Or the network might pay for the use of a photo or video, with the interview coming along “for free.” Sometimes, a trashier evening tabloid show will license photos and get a coveted interview, and then both are recycled onto a more respectable morning or evening news program on the same network, which can broadcast them freely while leaving its own checkbook unsullied. In each instance, everyone knows what’s happening except the viewers.

Mr. Garrison is enemies with Headline News’ Nancy Grace. “Until the day I die, I will never do Nancy Grace,” he tells Ms. Kolhatkar. Ms. Grace accused him on air of trying to squeeze a book deal and a movie out of the JonBenet Ramsey tragedy.

The News Merchant [The Atlantic] Tabloid Stories for Sale! The Dead-White-Girl Television Business