NPR Takes Down Vision Media's Claims; Will Vision Media Sue NPR -- Or Does It Only Sue Small Operations?

from the we-shall-see dept

Earlier this year, we wrote about Vision Media TV, a company that appeared to be participating in a questionable game of convincing non-profit organizations to pay tens of thousands of dollars to be featured in a television program with broadcaster Hugh Downs that would appear on "public television." The implication is that these shows will air on PBS, but that's not the case. In fact, PBS has a warning on its website telling people it's not associated with these offerings at all. We've even been approached by similar offerings (though, not involving Hugh Downs -- and the one where we were approached involved getting an "award" for "best small business" or something similar). About a year and a half ago, the NY Times wrote an article trashing Vision Media TV. The company insisted that the article was false and defamatory but, tellingly, chose not to sue.

Instead, it later sued the small site 800notes.com, because some people there had written negatively about Vision Media TV in explaining who was calling from Vision Media's phone number. Paul Alan Levy, from Public Citizen, who is defending 800Notes, also found himself targeted, after Vision Media sought to bar him from posting public documents about the case on Public Citizen's website -- an attempt that failed. Of course, it did help Levy find more info about the company, including that similar pitches have come from differently named companies, using the same address as Vision Media TV, that pitched (instead of Hugh Downs), Walter Cronkite and Mike Douglas -- both of whom ended up suing the company, claiming they were misled by the company.

Levy says he's asked Vision Media why it never sued the NY Times over its article, and the company's lawyer responded "I should have," but supposedly the statute of limitations had already passed. Well, now Levy is pointing out that Vision Media has a second chance to sue a big media player, since NPR just did a devastating takedown of Vision Media TV and its practices:
"They are selling something that they generally cannot deliver," says Garry Denny, program director of Wisconsin Public Television and a past president of the professional association of programming officials for PBS member stations. "In fact, they are probably not carried by any public television station around the country."

Officials at PBS and at PBS member stations in California, Colorado, Kentucky, New York, South Carolina and Virginia were all aware of the Hugh Downs spots. Yet not one knew of a concrete instance in which the spots featuring Downs appeared on their stations or those of others. PBS and its member stations say they adhere to guidelines banning marketing programming paid for by subjects of the programs.
To be fair, the article and Vision Media point out that the videos can be useful as marketing materials or infomercials even if they don't appear on public television -- but the whole pitch involving Hugh Downs is where things get questionable. His contract only lets him be involved if the stuff is on public television, and the marketing focuses on Downs involvement, even if that's unlikely to happen for most organizations who pay up -- which certainly suggests misleading marketing:
According to both Downs' agent and Vision Media's Miller, the retired anchor's contract limits his involvement to public television. Yet for many people approached by Vision Media's cold-calling pitchmen, he's by far the strongest selling point.

One of the firms recently pitched is Portland, Maine-based Putney Inc., which develops generic drugs for pets. "Hugh Downs! I know that name," said Jean Hoffman, Putney's CEO. "We were of course pretty excited, pretty interested, and pretty eager to cooperate."

It seemed like a splendid opportunity, until Hoffman and her colleagues started to bore in on the details. "They send the signal that they're doing a story" as journalists, Hoffman said. "Then, they try to sell us what under questioning was revealed to be advertising."
Others, who did buy into the videos, claim that the pitch about public television was what got them interested in the first place:
Robert Biggins is past president of the funeral director trade group and owner of a funeral home in Rockland, Mass. He said Vision Media's promise of a presence on public television and the involvement of Downs were crucial.

"He brings a credibility in reporting," Biggins said. "I felt that dealing with an organization that he's so intimately involved in gave us the opportunity to share our message, and to do so in a warm and gracious manner."

If their spots did not air on public television, Biggins said, "That would be a serious concern."

The National Funeral Directors Association provided NPR with a copy of the contract it signed with Vision Media. The association paid $22,900 in 2007 for the production of different versions of the spot, plus an additional $3,000 as a "location fee" -- presumably for travel costs. The contract and additional material from Patrick Wilson of American Artists, the segments' distributor, stated the "estimated reach is over 40 million households" on public television stations. The brochure also suggests the spots will reach 84 million households nationwide on cable -- the overwhelming majority of all homes subscribing to cable television.
So, if Vision Media's lawyer said he wished he had sued the NY Times over a very similar article from a couple years ago, will he now sue NPR? Or is it easier to focus on small sites with much smaller budgets?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Tracy Coenen, Apr 23rd, 2010 @ 6:52am

    Tried to con a fraud investigator

    Yes, these guys tried to get me - - a fraud investigator - - to participate in this scam. It immediately sounded sketchy to me, but I asked them to send me their materials because I wanted to see what they were up to. A quick Google searched proved their "programs" are worthless. I wrote about this for WalletPop a while ago: http://www.walletpop.com/blog/2008/12/09/business-owners-beware-of-business-program-scams/

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Alatar, Apr 23rd, 2010 @ 7:31am

    So they are suing? Let them sur me

    As I guess, they are suing small American bloggers.
    What if I (French) am the one hosting the compromising documents (on my server in Paris), and the small US bloggers only link to it, as a naive "oh, look, a report just popped up there"? Will it take bloggers out of those morons' reach? I am ready to do it, as long as I don't have to fight a big american company in court.

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Pixelation, Apr 23rd, 2010 @ 8:28am

    A fool and his money

    It's brain boogering to me people will spend many thousands of dollars with companies like this without doing a simple Google search first.
    A fool and his money...

     

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  4.  
    icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), Apr 23rd, 2010 @ 8:39am

    Similar to trade mags...

    This type of routine is very similar to several trade magazines that exist only to leech money from the industries they cover. Case in point, you will find with a quick search several trade magazines dedicated to the American Construction industry (I briefly worked for one before realizing how unethical they were). Here's how it works:

    1. A "editorial researcher" calls a construction company, claiming that they might want to include the company in a story they are doing about the industry in their area.

    2. After a brief interview, the researcher says they will get back to them. Two days or so later, they inform the business that they do indeed want to write up a story including their company.

    3. Along with this story, the mag requests a list of sub-contractors and vendors the company uses in order to get further quotes and flesh out the story.

    4. Those vendors and subcontractors are then immediately hit up for advertising in the mag. If they initially decline, they are usually told that several other vendors/subs have already bought ads, implying that if they didn't it would make them look like they didn't care about their relationship with the covered company.

    5. If no ads are sold, no story is written. Plus these ads cost at a minimum of $1500 or so, and copies of the mag ONLY go out to featured companies, ad purchasers, and a small list of addresses provided by the featured company, only for that ONE issue. There is no regular readership, no regular distribution/subscription lists.

    Like I said, I worked for one of these for about a month before I figured out what was going on, then hightailed it the hell out of there....

     

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  5.  
    icon
    Paul Alan Levy (profile), Apr 24th, 2010 @ 5:08pm

    Update about Vision Media TV

    I have added an update to my blog post -- it appears that since the NPR report, the South Florida Better Business Bureau has pulled Vision Media TV's rating. http://seflorida.bbb.org/Business-Report/Vision-Media-Television-LLC-92003218.

    Vision Media TV had been citing a favorable BBB report as proof that it was providing the promised services.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Cindy Shardo, Apr 24th, 2010 @ 9:08pm

    A new chapter in the Big Business of Identity Theft

    The identity theft industry is pervasive and has infiltrated the various levels of society and is big "business."

    There numerous ways and means to obtain and use stolen identities. These and the involved companies appear to be interconnected and work together to find, share and use information.

    These perpetators utilize different approaches to either obtain, confirm or utilize stolen identities, i.e. telemarketing techniques like saying they are from Publishers Clearing House, claiming they are relatives of people who have died and want to give the caller their inheritance, calling someone's workplace and asking for the manager, saying they are fcsi bill collector collects debts for at&t and other company's,offering to lower credit card rates, asking for child support, saying they represent charities and asking for donations, ie.such as Make a Wish Foundation, and Fire and Rescue, yelling at, threatening and otherwise attempting to terrorize people, calling on a daily basis, from early morning to late during the night, with calls a minute apart,

    Also related and linked to obtaining and abusing personal information and with overlapping use of phone numbers used to call are:

    Anchor Receivables
    1-877-735-8600
    Corporate Headquarters
    120 Corporate Blvd., Norfolk VA 23502,
    Mailing address: PO Box 12914 Norfolk VA 23541
    Phone: (800) 772-1413 800-654-8818 or 757-519-9300
    Fax: (757) 321 2504 or 866-296-0635

    Offices:
    4829 Hwy 45 North
    Jackson, TN 38305

    New Market Mall
    5200 West Mercury Blvd
    Hampton, VA 23666


    500 West 1st Avenue
    Hutchinson, KS 67501

    Head Debt Collectors:
    Steve Fredrickson, CEO
    Email: sfredrickson@portfoliorecovery.com
    Andrew Holmes, President
    Email: aholmes@portfoliorecovery.com
    Craig Grube, Sr., VP
    Email: cgrube@portfoliorecover.com
    Donald A. Williams, Associate General Counsel
    Email: dwilliams@portfoliorecovery.com

    Web Address: www.portfoliorecovery.com

    PORTFOLIO RECOVERY ASSOCIATES

    Located at 120 Corporate Blvd Norfolk VA 23502 at web address http://www.portfoliorecovery.com/
    phone numbers 888-772-7326 and
    757-519-9300 Portfolio Recovery Associates utilizes additional numbers awith calls coming from numbers including:

    888-772-7326
    847-678-9710
    757-961-3544
    757-961-3545
    757-961-3546
    757-961-3547
    757-961-3548
    620-662-8870
    731-215-8010
    786-358-5583
    731-215-8010
    847-678-9710
    205-423-4020

    This company (also using the name Anchor Receivables and some of the same phone numbers associated with Portfolio Recovery) is under investigation by state attorney general in florida and has been investigated and found guilty elsewhere inlcuding Virginia. Ongoing cases against this company.

    Also attorney general in Missouri.These and any others are waiting for more information for their cases.

    Also seems to be linked to Franklin Collection Services, 2978 West Jackson Street Tupelo, MS 38801 and the following numbers:

    662-256-8100
    38662-854-1478
    662-854-1478
    3662-841-7850
    662-841-7850
    97662-690-2284
    662-690-2284
    2662-279-8459
    156662-690-2281
    662-690-2281
    2662-963-1291
    662-963-1291
    6629631291
    1662-275-4183
    662-275-4183
    6622754183
    662-739-9057
    66 27399057
    1662-703-4725
    1662-789-0158
    3662-000-9446
    662-000-9446
    662-609-4023
    662-568-8744
    1662-283-3445
    5662-796-1221
    1662-568-8744
    3662-609-4023
    4662-690-2285
    662-609-4023
    662-283-3445
    662-796-1221
    662-690-2285
    4662-796-1914
    662-796-1914
    3662-655-4861
    662-655-4861
    662-396-9000
    1662-417-4687
    662-417-4687
    4662-706-9966
    2662-216-3730
    662-216-3730
    3662-796-1861
    662-796-1861
    4662-396-9000
    662-706-9966
    2662-540-1625

    Vision Media and all associated numbers : 561-338-7475, 561-367-7601, and 561-826-0770 are apparently also associated with the above and other "debt consolidation" companies.

    They seem to be a front for a ring of identity theft that spans the US and beyond including states such as Arizona, Las Vegas, Missouri, Florida, Virginia, Illinois....

    It seems they get names may not only by collecting lists of phone numbers from foundations, but directly from contacts in wireless phone companies perhaps even Metro PCS.

    Methods and approaches suggest that they may have contacts in large companies that have access to phone numbers such as Wallmart Stores Inc and the company that purchased them, Sams Clubs. and even big gas and fuel companies like Smiths.

    Hotels are used as fronts and places where they use the stolen ids and credit cards for example in vacation spots like Las Vegas.

    Companies and individuals are spammed to personal information for example online, on the web and through twitter.

    The land of opportunity is proving to be great opportunity for criminals. You've got to give them credit for being industrious and innovative ... you've also got to band together and provide every bit of information to all State Attorney Generals (who wait for this) so the "captains of industry" can get the recognition and payment they so richly deserve.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 4th, 2010 @ 7:47pm

    Re: Update about Vision Media TV

    The show is now called "Spotlight" and features "host" Joan Lunden. Check out spotlightedu.com. I cannot believe no one has reported these guys to the Florida Attorney General for deceptive business practices. Someone needs to shut down this racket for good!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Average Joe, May 19th, 2011 @ 5:21pm

    Operating under a new name or similar company

    I got a pitch someone this week at InsideAmericaProject.com with a very similar deal. Be careful!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    TK, May 20th, 2011 @ 4:58pm

    Re: Update about Vision Media TV

    Paul,

    I've recently been fooled into signing a contract with these guys, and found out about this stuff immediately after signing. I haven't sent them any money yet.

    Is there any advice or guidance you could give me on how to handle things moving forward?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    icon
    GEinLA (profile), Nov 15th, 2012 @ 2:44pm

    Same pitch, new name and face

    InFocus with Martin Sheen is the newest name in the same pitch, it seems. They have bought TONS of domain names have attempted to foil the Google algorithm into making them seem legit. Any fool can see a legitimate venture needs only one website, not a myriad loaded with keyword content.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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