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Money Talks and I Am All Ears

For sale: My story. A guaranteed audience grabber for this month’s ratings sweeps.

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At first I shuddered at the prospect of Los Angeles Police Sgt. Stacey C. Koon and two jurors who convicted him haggling on a television talk show--for money.

I worried that such a spectacle--lumping them and the volatile case they represent with “People Who Feel Trapped in Their Marriages” and “Women Friends of Killers Robert Chambers and Jeffrey Dahmer” and “Overweight Women Who Claim Their Spouses Ignore Them"--would trivialize the legal system. I also had reservations about the paid appearance of one of Koon’s acquitted co-defendants in the Rodney G. King beating trial, Officer Theodore J. Briseno.

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Koon got $10,000 for an interview on “A Current Affair” before getting $25,000 for taping Thursday’s and today’s appearances on “Donahue” with the two jurors, who were paid an unspecified amount (with estimates ranging up to $10,000). Briseno had earlier received $25,000 for a post-trial “Donahue” appearance.

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Phil Donahue’s skirts weren’t entirely clean. Although capable of probing interviews, he was also the guy who once wore a dress during a segment on transvestites. Yet even beyond the potential carnival aspect, such paid appearances were dangerous, I reasoned, because they obligated the payee, as an employee of the payer, to give a good performance--a situation that could lead to distortion. And where would the rest of the media be, moreover, if prominent figures in sensational cases began charging fees for speaking to reporters?

It was obvious why Briseno and Koon wanted to recoup some of the financial losses they incurred during their recent federal trial and earlier state trial. And you could make a case, at least, for the acquitted Briseno profiting from his notoriety. Unlike Koon, he’s now innocent under the law of violating King’s civil rights.

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On principle alone, however, it seemed wrong that Koon--who was found guilty along with Officer Laurence M. Powell in the second trial--should earn big paydays from being a convicted felon.

Or that jurors in the case should sell their stories to the highest bidder as if they were Amy Fisher characters. If this became a common practice, how would we know that future jurors--say in the trial of the men accused of clobbering trucker Reginald O. Denny--weren’t thinking of post-trial payoffs and following separate, self-serving agendas in the jury room?

Yes, I was concerned.

But now I’ve changed my mind. When you think about this, it’s common practice for media to pay news sources, rewarding their cooperation not with cash but with public exposure. This symbiotic process ranges from reporters dealing with politicians to Barbara Walters getting interviews with celebrities who want to promote their latest movie: Give us your face, and we give you some air time.

Thus, if Koon, Briseno and jurors are cashing in, why shouldn’t some of the rest of us?

Now I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I did cover the coverage of the King trial, an exciting adventure I had planned to write about in this newspaper, but will now reserve for a bigger and, well, more lucrative venue. You won’t believe the tale I have to tell. I don’t want to give anything away before “Donahue” gets a crack at my story, but I did have some pretty fantastic experiences in front of the set (critical cable outage--hint, hint).

And “A Current Affair” viewers would be interested to know about my sexual attraction to a TV reporter covering the trial. Male or female? You’ll have to watch to find out.

Hey, I’ve got expenses.

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The Frenzy: Ravenous media sharks can smell sex from miles away.

“I got approached by Montel Williams, Jenny Jones, Sally Jessy Raphael, Maury Povich, ‘A Current Affair,’ ‘Inside Edition’ and ‘Hard Copy.’ ”

That is Hemet News reporter Louis Amestoy recalling his soaring popularity after his stories last March on a juicy alleged sex scandal in Riverside County.

Former Hemet High School football coach Randy Brown and his wife, Kelly, are charged with arranging sexual trysts between her and members of the football team.

Amestoy said that after the story broke he and his editor, Craig Schultz, were also contacted by a spate of tabloid papers, including two from London and others from Italy and Australia. But it was television that did the hounding.

The Williams and Povich shows were the “most belligerent,” Amestoy said. “They wanted us to do the legwork for them and were aggressive about getting me to set them up with one of the players.” He told them none of the players was talking.

But Amestoy was, in a fashion, agreeing to be interviewed by “A Current Affair.” No, he wasn’t paid. “As soon as the Montel Williams people learned I was going on ‘A Current Affair,’ they offered to fly me to New York,” Amestoy said, “but the company that owns my paper said no.”

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Amestoy was shocked at how badly Los Angeles newscasts covered the story. “I just couldn’t believe the screw-ups.” He credits “A Current Affair” with doing the best story. That is, he adds, “if you took out the stupid little re-enactments.”

Well, nobody’s perfect.

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Small Detail: Wednesday’s NBC movie “Moment of Truth: Why My Daughter?” was based on an actual case about Gayle Moffitt’s quest to bring to justice the man who turned her teen-age daughter, Diana, into a prostitute and, she believes, was connected to her murder. That man was Diana’s pimp, Adrian Coleman.

Moment of truth: Diana was white, Coleman--with whom she lived and had sex--was black. Why, then, was he played by a white actor in the movie? Despite showing footage of the real Coleman, KNBC Channel 4 curiously never asked the race question in its self-promoting “story” about “the real people” in “Why My Daughter?” that aired on its 11 p.m. newscast following the movie.

NBC changed Coleman’s race in the movie because “they didn’t want it to be just another black man portrayed as a pimp,” Moffitt said by phone from Portland, Ore. “They were afraid that if they made this a black-white issue, people wouldn’t notice the real issues. They didn’t want to get caught up in the prejudice.”

But? “Part of it was a black-white issue,” said Moffitt.

NBC had no immediate comment on Moffitt’s criticisms.

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