Networks Know Not To Copy H-P's Journalist Spy Plot

If it's getting tough for business journalists to do their job, apparently it's even tougher for businesses to figure out what journalists think.

It seems that Hewlett-Packard doesn't trust journalists, as it had plans to infiltrate newsrooms at CNET and The Wall Street Journal with spies posing as cleaning people and clerical staffers.

We have seen this kind of bad TV movie before.  Evil company looking to usurp the socially conscious, hard-working blue-collar worker.

H-P is already in a whole heap of a mess. This just adds to an ongoing investigation, which included perhaps underhanded efforts by H-P to gain the phone records of company directors, employees, journalists and others.

Interestingly enough, H-P has the TV spin going here. Many members of the company's board were under this illegal surveillance, including long-time Paramount and UPN executive Lucy Salhany.

What kind of information could journalists have? It's hard to know. Perhaps it had to do with journalists' stories that were seemingly negative towards H-P.

TV has its own secrets, to be sure--but most are of the comic variety. Certainly no network is readying any covert operations into Variety or MediaPost.  But networks do get crazy when things don't go their way. Take network affiliate meetings, which journalists aren't allow to directly attend, instead receiving a briefing afterwards from network executives.

Urban legend has it that at an NBC affiliate meeting in the late '80s/early '90s, a senior NBC executive was going through his introductory remarks when he noticed the tips of a pair of black shoes sticking out from a side curtain.

He screamed: "Who is behind that curtain?!" At which time, someone pulled it back to reveal an enterprising entertainment business reporter, who, upon having his cover blown, high-tailed it to the back and out of the room.

"Get him!" screamed the NBC executive, as if the journalist had some sort of nuclear bomb secret.

What was the news? Probably not much. Maybe NBC was considering moving "Cheers" to Monday night. Earth-shattering news, for sure. But certainly no risk of lives being lost.

Intensely competitive H-P must feel the same way, wanting to run after journalists. It obviously wants to get firsthand knowledge of those reporters who pan H-P's new laptop or PDA cell phone.

Haven't we seen this plot before, on a bad made-for-TV movie--one that gets really low ratings? That should be H-P's first clue: Not many people care, little can really be gained, and most importantly, journalists are going to write what they want anyway--even behind curtains.