The twice-yearly Television Critics Association press tour (where I’ve been since July 8, and will be until Friday) is easy to mock: the occasionally oddball reporters with their bizarre questions; the endless network spin about new shows, most of which will be quickly cancelled; the “Lord of the Flies” atmosphere. But I find the TCA valuable and even sometimes fun. Seeing the network and cable presentations can be useful as attending a political stump speech; yes, they’re dishing out what they want you to hear, but there’s information to be gleaned from just that. Plus, execs, producers and stars are readily available for one-on-one chats. They may as well cooperate; they’re stuck there with you anyway.

Still, some TCA-ers can be fantastically defensive about their twice-yearly confab. It’s not a junket, they insist; it’s not, it’s not, it’s not! Even though the three meals a day are all gratis, and the hotel rate ($115 a night at the Century Plaza) is artifically low and obviously indirectly subsidized by the TV networks, which bring millions of dollars in business to the hotel with their presentations. TCA awards night banquet is described by members as a “gift from the hotel,” e.g., it’s certainly not paid for by the TCA budget, which charges just $50 a year in dues. Actually, of course, it’s a gift from the networks.

And yet what a kerfuffle is going on right now because of that awards night! The problem, as reported by Scott Collins in the L.A. Times yesterday, is that the TCA accepted — even solicited! — network ads for the awards night program. Which led to a rancorous, three-hour TCA meeting Saturday morning. As Collins wrote:

Many members were outraged, believing that accepting network ad money gave the group at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.

The fact that their own newspaper and magazine employers of course accept and solicit ad money from businesses the publications cover seems not to have occurred to these outraged members. So they want the TCA to apologize to the networks and refund the money paid for the program ads.

Journalism’s a funny thing: we don’t have to pass any tests to work as reporters, and we can’t be disbarred. So maybe that’s why we so often overshoot (or undershoot) target guidelines for ethical behavior.

And then we all have our own little rules. I, for instance, felt I needed to see for professional reasons “Fahrenheit 9/11,” but giving Michael Moore one dollar of my money violated my own personal ethical code. So when Showtime offered TCA members a free screening as the evening’s entertainment last night, I took it. Problem solved!

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