Road Trip 2008 not welcome at Graceland

The organization that runs the world-famous home of music legend Elvis objects to the use of an Elvis-theme banner on CNET's Road Trip Web site--and cancels a behind-the-scenes visit.

Graceland administrators said their policy prohibited a visit for Road Trip 2008 because the package was using a banner with a photograph of CNET News.com reporter Daniel Terdiman dressed in an Elvis-esque outfit. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News.com

MEMPHIS, Tenn.--I guess our version of a little bit of Southern humor didn't go over so well with the folks who run Graceland.

As I was preparing to begin Road Trip 2008, my tour of the South in search of many of the region's most interesting attractions and destinations, it seemed that we needed to have a banner for the special-project page that evinced the South in some way.

Last year, when I did Road Trip 2007 in the Southwest, we took a similar approach, and I dressed in a cowboy hat for the banner photograph.

So this year, we thought having me dress in an Elvis-esque jacket and sunglasses would do the trick. I actually wasn't sure if that was the right image, and I canvassed my friends, co-workers and Twitter followers for other ideas. But nothing resonated quite like Elvis.

So Elvis it was.

The banner for the Road Trip 2008 package includes a photograph of reporter Daniel Terdiman dressed in an Elvis-esque outfit. Graceland administrators said that a planned behind-the-scenes visit could only proceed if CNET News.com substituted a normal photograph of Terdiman for the existing one, and when CNET News.com said it couldn't do that, Graceland canceled the visit. CNET News.com

It also seemed appropriate, since I had arranged for a visit to Graceland, where I was going to be shown some of the coolest technology that is used there.

But about a week ago, that plan fell apart.

I received an e-mail from Kevin Kern, the director of public relations for Elvis Presley Enterprises that said, effectively, after looking again at the Road Trip 2008 special-project page, Graceland officials had realized there was a problem.

"We strictly prohibit the use of Elvis costumes in connection with media visits," Kern wrote. "It is not a common occurrence with media visits, so we don't typically say it on the front end, but we understand your Web site and style is a little different. With that being said, we would appreciate a new photo without the Elvis costume to be loaded in the banner on your site. I'm sorry to make the demand, but it is our policy."

After conferring with my editor, we decided that we couldn't change the banner photograph. It had been up for more than two weeks and, after all, Graceland was just one destination on a much larger trip. To change it would be difficult on a practical level, since it would require a production artist to take the time to do so. It would also give the perception that we were allowing someone else to dictate our editorial decisions. That's really something any media organization frowns upon.

I wrote back to Kern to explain that the banner really had very little do with the Graceland visit.

"While it's true that I am dressed in an Elvis outfit in the banner of the project page, that is the full extent of how I'm portraying myself in that way," I wrote. "To your specific concern, I am absolutely not wearing that outfit as I drive around the South. That was a rental that I had for a single day, we did the photo shoot, and then I returned it."

I threw in that last bit because Kern had expressed concern that I might actually show up at Graceland wearing the outfit.

And then I asked, gently, if there might not be some other way to work out this situation, beyond us taking down the photograph, especially "given the fact that I am in no other way portraying myself as Elvis."

Kern quickly wrote back and said that, unfortunately, Graceland's policy required them to cancel the visit.

This was very disappointing. But I wanted to know more. So I wrote back to Kern, telling him I wanted to write something about this situation and asking if he could elaborate further on Graceland's policy.

Kern did not respond to my request for comment.

So here I am in Memphis, and there will be no Graceland for me. It's too bad, but it is what it is.

And to be sure, I can sort of understand the idea that Elvis Presley Enterprises feels that it has to maintain total control over Elvis' image and that without such a policy, reporters and other members of the media might constantly be showing up dressed as the King, wanting to do photo shoots dressed like that.

For this project, however, I find it a little hard to swallow this decision. The use of an Elvis image was, though prominent on the Road Trip package, downplayed from the perspective of linking it to Graceland and there was never any intention of my showing up at the mansion dressed any way other than as a normal person.

Policies are policies, but I really would have liked a more complete explanation, and I'm afraid, dear Road Trip readers, that I've let you down by not being able to provide you with the technology side of Graceland that I had planned. I hope you can forgive me.

If so, please continue to follow Road Trip 2008 here and on my Twitter feed and on my Qik channel.

 

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