NBC star Savannah Guthrie should have declined to interview Amber Heard after revealing that her husband did consulting work for Johnny Depp’s lawyers, according to journalism ethics experts.
On June 8, Guthrie sat down with two of Depp’s attorneys — Camille Vasquez and Benjamin Chew — just days after their client won a defamation suit that he brought against his ex-wife, Heard.
Before the interview, Guthrie informed viewers that “my husband has done consulting work for the Depp legal team, but not in connection with this interview.”
Guthrie’s husband is Michael Feldman, a public relations consultant and former political adviser, who once worked for former Vice President Al Gore during his 2000 presidential campaign. He currently works at the public relations firm FGS Global.
Guthrie, the co-host of the network’s “Today” show, sat down with Heard for a one-hour “Dateline” special that will air at 8 p.m. ET Friday. Last week, Guthrie interviewed Heard’s attorney, Elaine Bredehoft.
NBC has already released snippets of the interview with Heard.
But ethics experts say Guthrie has a clear conflict of interest in light of her disclosure about Feldman’s ties to Depp’s lawyers. As a result, she should not have interviewed the attorneys or Heard.
“Ms. Guthrie was transparent by letting viewers know her husband worked for the Depp legal team before her interview aired on the ‘Today’ show,” Rebecca Aguilar, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, told Insider.
“Still, she could have avoided becoming part of the story by allowing another NBC anchor to interview the Depp team and later with Ms. Amber Heard. Ms. Guthrie should be far away from this story to show her viewers that she is fair, transparent, and ethical.”
Erik Wemple, a media critic for the Washington Post, wrote that Guthrie has a “very significant conflict of interest” in light of her husband’s involvement with Depp’s attorneys.
The idea that Guthrie could benefit financially — albeit indirectly — from her husband’s ties to Depp disqualifies her from reporting on the topic, according to Wemple.
“There is a financial stake,” Wemple said. “And that is the most fair and narrow and unpuncturable conflict of interest, if it affects your family finances in some way.”
Wemple added that the fact that Guthrie had to make a disclosure in the first place indicates that NBC knew the arrangement was somewhat problematic.
“She is interviewing lawyers who presumably benefited from her husband’s consulting. That is really close,” Wemple said.
“The more I think about it, the more it seems a little nuts.”
An NBC News executive told The Post that Guthrie disclosed her husband’s consulting work for the law firm which represented Depp and that the fairness of the interviews speaks for itself.
The executive said that Guthrie disclosed the information to Heard, her attorney, and Depp’s lawyers before the interviews, and they all agreed to move forward.