Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Bad Journalism Inflames Harry Caray Ad Flap.

It’s a small matter, but I think it represents something a bit troubling.

The Chicago Tribune, rather prominently at least on ChicagoTribune.com, reported today that Harry Caray’s widow, Dutchie, is offended by AT&T’s recent TV ads featuring a Harry Caray impersonator. Then it inflamed the matter further by inviting readers to comment and offer their own opinions about the ads. Within a few hours, hundreds of readers had commented and most, not surprisingly, agreed with Dutchie.

Here is at least one posting of one of the ads on YouTube, along with some excellent clips of the real Harry (his Crackerjack rant is a classic), as well as some other clips of comedian John Campanero doing his impression, which he's been doing for many years. Will Ferrell also does Caray, but I think Campanero is better.

The AT&T commercials are okay, sort of funny, also sort of pointless, as the use of Caray has nothing to do with the product being offered. It was just a way to use a funny character to make an otherwise straight pitch with a little bit of humor. They also underestimated the extent to which Harry is still a very beloved figure here and while he could be unintentionally hilarious, to portray him as a buffoon to sell something was tone-deaf. To me as a marketing professional, the most offensive thing is that it was an ill-conceived campaign.

But that's not how the Tribune played it.

Although at least one of the Tribune’s reports indicated that Harry Caray’s estate licensed the ads, i.e., gave AT&T permission to use Caray’s name and distinctive voice and delivery, and presumably Dutchie Caray controls the estate and profited from the ads, the Tribune’s reporting never put those pieces together and most readers don’t understand that AT&T never could have run the ads without the estate’s permission.

I don't blame the readers for not understanding the laws governing that sort of thing, I blame the Tribune for stirring them up with a very misleading story.

The real story, then, it seems to me is that Dutchie Caray is a hypocrite, putting money in her pocket, then biting the hand that feeds her by publicly bashing the ads, when she could easily have kept them from being made in the first place. (I don’t know for a fact that she controls the estate, but that’s a reasonable assumption.) So my question to the Tribune is, when are you going to report the real story instead of creating a phony, trumped-up, half-told and brazenly sensationalized public spectacle? Where’s the journalism? That’s the troubling part.

The Tribune article also failed to point out that the Chicago Tribune owns the Chicago Cubs and was Harry Caray's employer for all of the years he did the Cubs broadcasts.

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