NBC Paid Licensing Fee, Hoax Pregnancy Teen Paid $150 For Footage

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Gaby Rodriguez appeared on NBC's "Today" show in May. (Credit: NBC, screenshot)

An attorney for Gaby Rodriguez, the Washington teenager who hoaxed her own pregnancy for six months as part of a school project, e-mailed iMediaEthics a statement after the teen interviewed “exclusively” on the NBC’s Today show.

iMediaEthics e-mailed Rodriguez’s book agent, Sharlene Martin, to ask more about the reports of NBC and money related to Rodriguez’s segment on the morning show.  Anne Bremner, Rodriguez’s attorney, responded to our e-mail inquiry to Sharlene Martin.

Bremner’s statement follows:

 “The Toppenish School Board held the rights to the video.  To put together a licensing agreement for NBC,  the Board agreed to sell Gaby the rights to the video for a nominal fee ($150) in exchange for the sale of those rights go into an Educational Trust fund for Gaby (with no fees/commissions from her attorney or literary manager).  NBC did not directly pay any scholarship monies….they paid a licensing fee for exclusive one time use of video which is customary and traditional in television news.  The dictate for the use of the money was negotiated by Jo-Ellen Thomas and Anne Bremner, attorney for Gaby Rodriguez.”

NBC denied Washington State newspaper the Yakima Herald Republic’s claims that NBC gave a scholarship to Rodriguez, Poynter’s Jim Romenesko reported yesterday.

The Yakima Herald Republic is a daily newspaper in Yakima, Washington, with a circulation of about 30,000 copies, according to MondoTimes. It’s owned by the Seattle Times Company.

An NBC spokesperson, Megan Kopf, reportedly e-mailed Romenesko to deny any scholarship fund creation but noted that NBC did pay a “nominal fee” in licensing footage for the seven-minute May 10 Today show segment.  Kopf stated: “There was no ‘scholarship’ (to what??) offered.”

In the segment, NBC does disclose that the “video of the assembly” was “licensed by NBC News.”

Kopf added that the Yakima Herald Republic never contacted NBC for comment before running its story.

Similarly, Rodriguez’s “literary agent,” Sharlene Martin, appears to have commented on Romenesko’s post also denying that NBC created the scholarship.

Martin explained that the school district gave Martin and Gaby’s attorney Anne Bremner footage from a school assembly in which Rodriguez admitted she was not pregnant.  The district required Martin and Bremner that any money made from the video “be put in a trust fund for a scholarship for Gaby’s education.”

The allegations of checkbook journalism from NBC gained traction earlier in the day when Romenesko posted a section of a May 26 Yakima Herald Republic story about Rodriguez in which the Herald Republic claims NBC “offered Gaby a scholarship,” according to Martin.

According to the Herald Republic, Rodriguez “initially planned to appear on ABC but backed out of that agreement, opting for NBC, which, according to [Sharlene] Martin, her agent, offered Gaby a scholarship.  Martin didn’t say how much it was worth.”

iMediaEthics has written to the Herald’s Adriana Janovich, whose name carries the byline on the story in question, to ask if she did contact NBC for comment prior to running her story, if the Herald will run a correction or clarification, and if she has any further comment.  We will update with any response.

CORRECTION - June 1, 2011 07:50 AM

Sharlene Martin, the teen’s agent, informed us of an error. She explained: “In Ms. Bremner’s statement she said that the Toppenish School Board sold the rights to the video TO Gaby Rodriguez for $150 so it could be licensed to NBC. The fee NBC paid for the licensing of the video was put into a scholarship fund for Gaby, as dictated by the terms of the agreement negotiated between Gaby’s attorney, Anne Bremner, and the Topppenish School Board. The amount of the licensing fee paid by NBC has not been disclosed and is NOT the $150 as reported by you.” We regret the error.

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NBC Paid Licensing Fee, Hoax Pregnancy Teen Paid $150 For Footage

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