Have a Camel, Cup of Joe
In 1949, in what was one of the earliest collaborations between a national TV news program and an advertiser, John Cameron Swayze — NBC’s first television newscaster — hosted the "Camel News Caravan" while smoking Camel cigarettes on the air.
Back then, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.’s corporate sponsorship of the 15-minute program required Swayze to have one of the company’s Camel brand cigarettes lit whenever he was broadcasting. The program opened with an invitation to viewers to "Sit back, light up a Camel and be an eyewitness to the happenings that made history in the last 24 hours."
When R.J. Reynolds pared its weekly sponsorship of the program from five days a week to three in 1955, Chrysler, maker of Plymouth automobiles, sponsored the rest of the week and changed the program’s name to the "Plymouth News Caravan" on those two days.
At CBS, news icon Walter Cronkite had a brief and unsuccessful on-air fling hawking Winston cigarettes, another R.J. Reynolds product.
When "The Huntley-Brinkley Report" replaced the Camel and Plymouth news programs in 1956, Swayze left NBC for a brief stint at ABC, before becoming a successful TV commercial spokesperson for Timex watches. Individual company sponsorships of news programs became a thing of the past when news divisions became sensitive to conflict-of-interest perceptions and the effect that sponsors would have on their objectivity.
What a difference 60 years make.
In 2009, in what is hailed a "natural fit" by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, another NBC news entity — MSNBC’s weekday talk show "Morning Joe" — is now wedded to an advertiser, in this case, the ubiquitous coffee chain. Promotional ads declare that the three-hour program, hosted by Joe Scarborough with co-hosts Mika Brzezinski and Willie Geist, is "brewed by Starbucks."
Long before the deal was officially inked, Scarborough, the "Joe" in "Morning Joe," openly drank Starbucks Frappuccinos on camera. MSNBC’s president Phil Griffin said the cable program’s sponsorship would not compromise its news judgment.