Dateline Slams Diamond Industry

The diamond industry has now been bashed by newsmagazines on all three major networks.

In July, Dateline NBC joined ABC’s PrimeTime Live and CBS’s 60 Minutes in presenting a damning—and, some felt, one-sided—look at the conflict diamond issue.

What particularly disturbed some was the program’s focus on the retail counter and its swipes at three of the industry’s biggest names: Tiffany, Cartier, and Harry Winston.

Congressman Tony Hall (D-Ohio) advised consumers to ask: “Where is this diamond from?” Hall added, “If that jeweler says, ‘I don’t know,’ don’t buy a diamond there until he finds out.”

But after Hall advised viewers to turn their backs on jewelers who didn’t provide guarantees, the show slammed jewelers who did. Following the contention of Jewelers of America chairman Matthew A. Runci (misspelled “Runcie” on the show’s Web site) that no jeweler can guarantee that his diamonds are conflict free, the show ran hidden-camera footage of salespeople from Tiffany, Cartier, and Harry Winston all denying they carried diamonds from Congo and Sierra Leone.

“[That’s] a claim we were told no jeweler can make,” the show said. “We contacted half a dozen other retailers. They all said basically the same thing: Their wholesalers assured them the diamonds they’re getting are clean.”

One Tiffany saleswoman, however, did give what most view as the “right” answer: “We make every attempt possible not to buy from anyone that would purchase from those areas.” Then the reporter asked, “So you can’t really guarantee it?” and she replied, “No one can.”

The show also sold a diamond to a 47th Street dealer who didn’t seem to care that it was from Sierra Leone. “He didn’t seem to care where the diamond is from, but he was interested in getting his hands on more of them,” reporter Dr. Bob Arnot said. In addition, a salesman for New York’s Cora Diamonds bragged that he had an office in Kisingani when asked if the company had stones from there. The company later denied it has a Congo office.

Another part of the program dredged up a now-settled debate—whether diamond jewelry should be included in conflict diamond legislation. It did note, however, that a compromise had been reached.

At press time, Cartier and Cora Diamonds had no comments on the broadcast; Harry Winston spokeswoman Carol Brodie merely noted that the store had received no feedback on the program. A statement from Tiffany said the Dateline “segment was misleading and lacked balance. It gave only scant attention to what we, and others in the industry, are doing to eliminate conflict diamonds. … It mentioned the consensus bill [only in passing], as a kind of afterthought, after giving considerable attention to the earlier debate that is now moot. … The program failed to mention efforts undertaken by retailers such as Tiffany and Co. to protect their inventories from diamonds.”

Most people interviewed expected the show to be negative, but some felt the show’s reporter, Arnot, misled them by promising it would be fair. The sole bright spot of the program, some said, was that it aired in summer before a holiday week, a time when viewing levels typically drop.

De Beers’ public relations firm, J. Walter Thompson, conducted research following the program and found that attitudes toward the diamond industry were not significantly affected. “Consumer attitudes toward diamonds remain relatively strong,” says Thompson’s Joan Parker. “When you get into the issues of Tony Hall [vs.] Matt Runci, the consumer isn’t interested in it.”

She did say that those who watched the program had a less positive impression of the diamond industry than those who did not. But she said the program seemed to have less impact on attitudes than the PrimeTime Live or 60 Minutes episodes.

A transcript of the program can be viewed at www.msnbc.com/news/593785.asp.