UPDATED WITH RESPONSE FROM LA TIMES VP . . .
Perhaps it does not fully descend into the unethical bog like the revenue-sharing arrangement with the Staples Center did a decade ago, but the Los Angeles Times' recent multimedia coverage of reporter Dawn C. Chmielewski shimmying on ABC's Dancing With the Stars at least leaves a pair of squishy high-heeled dancing shoes in its wake.
You'll often find Chmielewski's byline in the Times business section, under a headline related to the Disney Corp., which she has doggedly covered as a news beat at the LA daily for years. Disney, of course, owns the ABC television network, which counts Dancing With the Stars among its hottest programs.
Besides "Happy Feat in Strappy Heels"--Chmielewski's breezy first-person Column One account of what it was like to rehearse and perform for Dancing With the Stars, still rotating onto the LATimes.com home page this morning was online video footage of her performance, video of a rehearsal, a photo slideshow of backstage preparations and the actual performance (shot by ABC's photographer) and a post in the "Comments Blog" inviting readers to share what they thought of the spray-tanned, ink-stained wretch's performance.
The one place Chmielewski's star turn did not appear was on the Dancing With the Stars telecast--although it was taped by the show's camera crews, host Tom Bergeron was there to introduce the reporter and her dancing partner Jonathan Roberts, and the expert judges each weighed in as they would on a normal episode viewed by millions. Chmielewski claims a dare from an exec--perhaps one from Disney she'd been grilling--led her to follow the shuffling footsteps of the real "stars" deemed fit for prime time. Watch for yourself below . . .
Shortly after the bouncy little Latin number begins, Chmielewski fake-slaps Roberts. It's over very quickly. "You did better than Maureen Dowd at the New York Times," notes Bergeron. "I didn't know such a prestigious newspaper would have such slutty, slutty girls," adds judge Bruno Tonioli. ". . . I see what goes on behind the scenes. They make you work overtime, don't they?"
Whore accusations aside, it is true there would be an even more solid case to me made against Chmielewski's quid pro salsa had it actually aired to promote last Tuesday's season finale. Not that the show needs help. These days, one forgets what came first: DWTS or the local and network morning news programs chronicling every step of it.
If anyone needs a boost, it's the Times' print edition and website, which are advertising-supported, with rates based on the numbers of eyes/clicks each gets respectively. Pulling in some of that DWTS audience with an airy piece by an otherwise hard news hound can't hurt. Monetarily anyway.
Though the sub-headline writer tries to soften the incestuousness by labeling Chmielewski an "entertainment reporter," mockudancery or no, it should still be someone far removed from covering Disney poured into that tiny dress she's rocking. Not that anyone wants to see Steve Lopez in it, but still . . .
LAObserved.com reports that the Times' Reader Representative is leaving the paper. Jamie Gold worked for 10 years as the main liaison between readers and the newsroom "on questions of accuracy, fairness and bias." Maybe readers can catch her on the way out the door to seek answers about the DWTS coverage. Like, who paid for the time of Chmielewski's dancing partner for a week of rehearsals and the performance? Who paid for the studio space? Or Bergeron? Surely it must have been the ethically pure, cash-poor Times, correct?
Clockwork put those questions to Times editor Russ Stanton on Monday, and just received this response from Nancy Sullivan, the papers vice president, Communications: "The point of the Dancing With [the] Stars story was to give readers an idea of what it was like to be a contestant on that show, by going through the same drill that contestants do. They do not pay for partners, make-up, studio time, etc. Neither did we."
Someone must've sprinkled Roberts, Bergeron and Teamsters with magic Disney Tinkerbell pixie dust to them to work for free.
As of Monday, 18 readers left responses on the aforementioned Comments Blog, and the overwhelming majority were positive.
"To think the the [sic] 'techie' gadget girl at the OC Reg back in the '90s would one day be dancing the salsa in the LA Times' online edition never crossed my mind!" posted Greg Young, who identified himself as having worked in PR alongside the reporter. "Dawn, your stock raised several thousand points today. Bravo to the LA Times for letting its hair down and giving one of its best reporters the opportunity to show that the press knows how to have a little fun."
"Wow Dawn, you did really well," wrote Don Malloy. "I am sure Dan is proud of you. All 7's that is better than at the slot machines."
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The proud Dan would be Dan Chmielewski, Dawn's husband, who has his own public relations business in Santa Ana and blogs for TheLiberalOC.com. The 7's apparently refers to the scores of the judges. Or was it the reporter's editors? Whatever. Not all comments were kind.
"This is where the L.A. Times offically ceased publication," claimed "notwarrenbuffett." "Wow! European car reviews, Vampire movie reviews and reviews of variety shows--The New York Times LA Edition can't come soon enough!"
"People are losing their jobs and the economy is in a tailspin," wrote Frank Hom. "We need responsible news."
Hey, she's dancing as fast as she can!