An update to the story NPR broadcast last week involving Vision Media, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based production company that claimed to be producing short documentaries hosted by former network anchor Hugh Downs for broadcast on public television stations.
The story reported that the promised documentaries were actually paid infomercials, costing firms that were featured roughly $25,000 apiece.
And although Vision Media and its distributor, American Artists, estimated an audience of 60 million households would see each client's video on public television, NPR interviewed public television station programming officials in states across the country and could not find that the segments had ever aired on public TV.
Neither Vision Media nor American Artist provided any evidence they had done so.
In telephone conversations, Mark Miller, an owner of Vision Media, pointed to his company's rating of "A minus" from the Better Business Bureau as an endorsement of his company's integrity.
Following the broadcast of last week's piece, the Better Business Bureau revoked that rating, pending an inquiry into the company's business practices. According to Michael Galvin, vice president of communication for the Better Business Bureau of Southeast Florida and the Caribbean, the NPR story and further research yielded troubling concerns.
This week, in an email to NPR, Miller wrote that he was "not sure what happened with the BBB, but I am trying to contact someone to sort out the confusion." Miller also said clients were charged simply for producing corporate videos and shorter segments for broadcast on cable channels as infomercials, not for anything to do with public television. But clients who bought the video package and other firms who were approached by Vision Media sales representatives told NPR that host Hugh Downs' involvement was the primary appeal.
On Tuesday, Rick Hersh, Downs' agent, said he had been unaware of Vision Media's practices. "It's not great for Hugh, the way that you portrayed them. We didn't know about some of the stuff you reported."
But Hersh said Downs' involvement was limited to a single day's shooting of generic introductions to the videos at a television studio in Phoenix two years ago. And Hersh said Downs bore no responsibility for how Vision Media sold the videos to clients or what they contained.
As Downs' appearance was contractually limited to public television, Hersh said, "We took comfort in relying on public television not to put something on the air that they didn't find legitimate and honest and straightforward."
Repeated efforts to reach Downs directly for comment have been unsuccessful. Hersh says Downs has been on a two-month long global cruise and that he is likely to let his contract with Vision Media lapse when it expires in June.