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CNN reporter featured in Visa ad now requests it be discontinued

June 13, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ A CNN news correspondent asked Visa to quit running an advertisement featuring him after learning his boss felt it violated the cable network’s policy barring its journalists from most commercial advertisements.

The credit card ad featuring CNN correspondent Jonathan Karl is already set to appear in magazines popular with the 20-something set like Rolling Stone, Vibe and Swing.

A spokesman for Visa, Albert Coscia, said Friday that Visa would comply with the request to stop placing the ad, although it was too late to stop it from running in some magazines.

Tom Johnson, the chairman and chief executive of the CNN News Group, had not been told in advance that Karl had sought and won permission from CNN executives to be in the ad, CNN News spokesman Steve Haworth said.

But Haworth said Johnson disapproved once he found out. The New York Times wrote about Karl’s appearance in the ad in Friday’s edition.

Johnson also directed Karl’s supervisors to make sure he didn’t report stories dealing with credit cards or financial services ``for the foreseeable future,″ Haworth said.

As a general assignment reporter, he said Karl would not normally handle such stories anyway.

Karl declined to be interviewed about the ad, but Haworth said Karl asked Visa’a admakers to quit placing the ad on Friday. ``He realized it was wrong,″ Haworth said.

The episode gives critics more ammunition to argue that the media’s credibility is being eroded. A linchpin of credibility is that consumers can trust that media reporting has not been biased by advertisers.

Visa used Karl in a three-year-old series of ads that feature young up-and-comers in an effort to get their peers to sign up for Visa cards. Others have include football player Steve Young and Alli Truch, who designs album covers as an executive at Elektra music.

Karl is 29 and has worked at CNN since early 1996, covering the presidential campaign and how the candidates tried to enlist the youth vote.

The ad provides a glimpse of his opened wallet, which contains a press pass, a photo of Karl and his wife and his Visa card along with a list of a few recent purchases (a Ukrainian chess set, cigars and books).

Haworth said Karl wasn’t paid for the ad. ``He must have thought it would be good for exposure or name recognition,″ Haworth said.

Before joining CNN, Karl was an investigative reporter for two years for The New York Post and has written a book about the rise of militias.

In a memo Friday to the CNN staff, Johnson said he had reprimanded the unidentified manager who gave Karl approval to be in the ad ``for this mistake and he deeply regrets the error.″

He said CNN has a strict policy that prohibits its journalists from appearing in any commercial advertisements except promotional spots on behalf of the network itself.

``Violations of this sort are harmful to our credibility,″ Johnson wrote. But he indicated he didn’t blame Karl by noting that he has secured permission first and described him as ``a superb new CNN reporter.″

Johnson said he has appointed a new ethics committee headed by the news group’s general counsel, David Kohler, to review future requests for using CNN and its staff for promotional purposes.

Only Johnson or Kohler have authority to make such decisions, Johnson said. CNN is part of Time Warner Inc., the media-entertainmnet conglomerate.

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