Academics who study television journalism say "Today" host Matt Lauer's appearance in a Super Bowl advertisement reflects changing standards in the profession and the unique role morning-show hosts occupy.
Mr. Lauer, who interviewed President Barack Obama as part of NBC’s pre-game coverage, popped up again during the game Sunday, not in news coverage, but in an ad for Universal Pictures’ upcoming Will Ferrell film “Land of the Lost.” NBC and Universal Pictures are corporate siblings at NBC Universal.
In the beginning of the ad, Mr. Lauer is seen on a “Today”-like set interviewing paleontologist Rick Marshall, played by Ferrell.
“We are back now with Dr. Rick Marshall, whose new book arrives in stores tomorrow,” says Mr. Lauer, who is so skeptical about the doctor’s “time warps” theory that he refuses to shake the doctor’s hand.
Later in the ad, Mr. Ferrell’s character is seen in an alternate universe fighting off dinosaurs and other monsters.
“Do you know what this means?” screams a woman in the film, realizing the controversial “time warps” theory has been proved true.
“Yes,” responds Mr. Ferrell’s character. “Matt Lauer can eat it.”
Journalism ethics experts usually oppose journalists appearing in advertising, suggesting it can confuse the public and potentially detract from a journalist’s credibility and objectivity. NBC News has a policy that bars its talent from endorsing products in advertising.
A “Today” spokeswoman said Mr. Lauer wasn’t paid for his cameo in the movie and that Universal used parts of the scene in the ad.
She referred questions on whether Mr. Lauer would appear in future spots for the picture to Universal Pictures, which didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute, a group that studies journalism, said that though the morning news shows at ABC, NBC and CBS are produced by the network news departments, it’s not entirely clear that their anchors are journalists.
“What I have is a lot of questions,” she said of the ad. “To start with, I am not sure with the morning shows if I would consider their host as news people or entertainment people. They do a lot of thing that you would never condone if you were a journalist. The line between advertising and content on morning shows is pretty blurry.”
Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said some of the old rules about what you can and can’t do may be fading, especially for network morning shows.
"In the old days, most prominent journalists would have shied away from promoting a movie in a commercial," Mr. Sabato said. "But the rules have changed. TV newsmen are interchangeable to a great degree with Hollywood celebrities. They’re all famous and make boatloads of money. And they help each other out, peer to peer."
(Editor: Baumann. Updated 9 a.m. 2/3 to clarify that Lauer cameo is in movie.)