the kicker

News Broker/Newsbreaker Larry Garrison’s Next Get?

August 11, 2010

Among the 177 (and counting) mentions on cable news over the past two days of The World’s Most Famous Ex-Flight Attendant, Steven Slater, Slater has been called:

“a rock star,” CNN
“a hero,” CNN
“a folk hero,” Fox News, MSNBC
“a modern folk hero,” CNBC
“a working class hero,” Fox News, CNN
“our boy,” Fox Business Network
“our friend,” MSNBC
“America’s Sweetheart,” MSNBC (Sorry, Julia Roberts. Sandra Bullock?)
“America’s newest train wreck celebrity,” HLN (Sorry, Snooki.)

On HLN, the bestowing of that last honorific was immediately followed by a discussion about whether Slater therefore merited a “reality show” or “at least a film based on this scenario” or “if not a movie, a Bud Light commercial.”

For their part, the network morning news shows have dubbed Slater:

“a modern day version of Network‘s Howard Beale,” GMA
“a high-flying hero,” Today Show
“an anti-hero,” GMA

“a folk hero,” GMA, Today Show, The Early Show (and Nightline)
“an instant icon,” The Early Show

All of which seems a decent segue into this Atlantic piece by Sheelah Kolhatkar about “TV news broker” Larry Garrison and “the creeping” — and, creepy — “influence of money in television news.” In part:

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There is no single term that fully captures what Garrison does for a living, although it involves a lot of time spent cajoling people over the phone. He’s sometimes called a fixer, a story broker, or—his preference—an independent television producer and consultant, but all the titles mean the same thing: Garrison gets paid to bring tabloid stories to TV news programs. Missing toddlers, murdered coeds, septuplets, serial killers—an endless parade of freaks and victims is marched through the studio sets of Dateline NBC, 20/20, Good Morning America, Inside Edition, and countless other shows, all to satisfy viewers’ seemingly insatiable appetite for real-life tears and melodrama. Sometimes network bookers go out hunting for subjects themselves, armed with bouquets of flowers and boxes of tissues and the names of their star anchors (Diane Sawyer, Matt Lauer) as chits. In many cases, though, Garrison gets there first, locks up the rights to the person’s story, and becomes an unavoidable middleman in whatever transactions follow.

Kolhatkar “couldn’t find any [TV news producers] who would comment on the record” about Garrison, who told Kolhatkar that “no matter what the networks might argue… ‘they all pay'” (typically for “other materials,” not, um, the interview).

Another scene in the story has Garrison watching

a group of talking heads on Fox News… analyzing the story of a 19-year-old boy named Colton Harris-Moore who went on a crime spree in Washington state and then disappeared into the woods. Garrison says that he isn’t going to pursue the story—“it would influence kids”—but if he did, he might call the kid’s mother: “I’d like to do a movie and a book entitled In the Middle of Nowhere” he would tell her. “Or something glamorous. I’d lock up his rights, and when he’s caught, I’d own his rights and have his exclusive interview.”

If Garrison were to “get” The Steven Slater Story (Enjoyed The Flight: My Chute Ride to Heroism, or something glamorous), chances are he’d give the Big Three networks first crack. “[A] sit-down interview on a network talk show,” Garrison told Kolhatkar, is “more valuable—’classier’—than a three-minute sound bite on a cable program.”

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.