How do shows like Dateline NBC, 20/20, and Inside Edition find the kind of freakish, violent true-life stories (and future Law & Order SVU scripts) that manage to both titillate and terrify? Oftentimes, from a middleman like Larry Garrison. He represented the father of Natalee Holloway, the pretty blonde from Birmingham who went missing during a school trip to Aruba, as well as other fringe figures from tabloid megastories of decades past: "jurors in the Michael Jackson child-molestation case; a friend of Robert Blake’s dead wife; John Mark Karr, who falsely confessed to killing JonBenet Ramsey." People like Garrison, says the Atlantic, "make it easy for mainstream media outlets to pay for interviews while obscuring the fact that they do." Garrison delivers the news, then gets a producer or consultant fee for that particular program, in at least one case, allegedly without the interviewees' knowledge.
Here's how your paid-for trashy evening news becomes perfectly respectable by the next morning:
“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.
During the course of Sheelah Kolhatar's reporting, she hears Garrison try to woo a 78-year-old retired propane inspector named John Muldowney, who believes that he and his wife might have found Natalee Holloway’s remains while snorkeling:
“I did the news on this for five years, I wrote the book,” Garrison tells Muldowney. “I have people in Aruba who can look for the body. You didn’t give out the location, did you?” Pause. “I can put in a call to Dave Holloway.”
But the man does have standards:
(“Until the day I die, I will never do Nancy Grace,” he repeatedly tells me.)
But here's our question: How do the poor, hapless family members of the victims of these tragedies even know Garrison exists?
The News Merchant [Atlantic]