The Association Game: Palin, Cool J, and Their Brands

As some of you may know, it appears that Fox News made liberal use of archive footage to promote Real American Stories with Sarah Palin. One problem is that there was never a scheduled appearance by LL Cool J. If Fox was using old footage to promote a new show that presents problems in that viewers may think they are going to see certain issues discussed. Nonetheless in that scenario the interview was going to happen. Here, however, there was not a new interview. According to Cool J’s spokesperson “Contrary to what was reported, LL Cool J was never scheduled to be a guest on ‘Real American Stories’ with Sarah Palin this week.” The same seems to be true for Toby Keith, whose publicist has stated that no interview was scheduled and that Palin had not interviewed Keith. In this case, Fox News indicated that an older interview was finally going to air and claimed that Palin was only going to host the show. I suppose that means she was going to introduce segments. Fair enough except that apparently show has been promoted as “Sarah Palin will kick off her new Fox News series with one of the most diverse guest lineups in memory: LL Cool J, Toby Keith, and Jack Welch. The three very different guests will speak to Palin for her inaugural episode of ‘American Stories’ on April 1st.”

Both artists were surprised at the news they would be on the show. Cool J said that Fox was “misrepresenting” him. Despite Keith’s possible displeasure, Keith’s representative has ceded that Fox can use the old interview without extra permission. What exactly was Fox doing? Why exactly are the artists not so happy? I suggest that this event is similar to the McCain campaign’s use of songs, and artists’ not wishing to appear to be endorsing the candidate. As I argue in my piece Individual Branding, I think we will soon see more and more people wishing to control the context in which they and/or their work are portrayed. My guess is that Fox was trying to make it seem like Plain was interviewing people who may or may not have agreed to be on her show. Or worse they wanted to avoid Palin interviewing people but make viewers think she was. In either case, the stature and reputation of the interviewees helps the show gain legitimacy. If one thought that an interviewer of any political persuasion was not someone by whom one wished to be interviewed, one would not be happy that there was even the impression that an interview had occurred. My bet is that the current, broad releases that not only news shows use but universities and other organizations that record speakers will create more of these problems.

Although I prefer open culture, I can also appreciate the need to limit the way in which an interview or lecture is used in the future. As I argue in the essay, the tension between free sharing and the desire to control the use of one’s work or image to protect one’s reputation will likely create a demand for micro-licensing and payments systems. I am not certain that model is wise. But I am not sure whether it can be avoided either.