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TV Host Dobbs Taking Heat Over Potential Conflict in Dreyfus Fund Ads

Dreyfus, the New York-based mutual fund company, has found itself tangled in a brouhaha over journalistic ethics because one of its radio spots has been read on the air by a well-known financial journalist.

Lou Dobbs, the host of "Lou Dobbs Moneyline" on CNN, has been lending his voice to commercials for Dreyfus, according to a spokeswoman at the company. Meanwhile, Dreyfus is one of the advertisers on "Lou Dobbs Moneyline."

The relationship between Dobbs and Dreyfus has raised the ire of the press and ethicists, who say that Dobbs' arrangement has created a conflict of interest and compromised his integrity as a journalist.

Dreyfus spokeswoman Maegan Dollan said that Dobbs has been reading Dreyfus commercials on his radio show, "Lou Dobbs Report," as part of an "advertising relationship between Dreyfus and AOL/Time Warner." She said Dreyfus had not been paying Dobbs directly for the service.

"He has been reading a Dreyfus ad on that radio program, which we don't see as a conflict of interest," Dollan said.

Dollan said Dreyfus television spots - which do not include Dobbs' voice - as well as ads from the company's parent, Mellon Financial Corp. of Pittsburgh, have been airing during Dobbs' nightly "Moneyline" program.

CNN declined to comment on the matter and a publicist refused requests for an interview with Dobbs.

But the news caught the attention of gossip columnist Jeannette Walls, who quoted pundits condemning Dobb's behavior. And the Pointer Institute, a well-known journalism think tank, took note of the issue on its Web site.

Walls wrote in her column that after reaching Dobbs and asking him whether he was compromising his integrity, he responded that was a "silly" question, and then hung up on her.

Tom Bivens, a professor who teaches journalism ethics and other courses at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, said the issue raises questions about corporate influence on journalism and the relationship between advertising and news coverage.

With corporations constantly merging and creating ever-larger conglomerates, Bivens said it becomes increasingly difficult to understand journalists' motivations. Who is paying them? And how does that influence their reporting?

"It gets so mushy after a while," Bivens said.

Bivens wondered if Dobbs could fairly cover a story about Dreyfus after having worked for the firm. "How willing would he be to report on that given he's taking their money? How willing would he be to say something negative about them?"