Barack TV? GOP fears slant in up­com­ing ABC news show

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JEN­NIFER HARPER

Re­la­tions be­tween ABC News and Pres­i­dent Obama are be­ing crit­i­cized as be­com­ing too in­ti­mate, as the net­work an­nounced it would pro­duce a prime-time broad­cast from the White House that in­cludes ques­tions so­licited from view­ers without equal time for the Repub­li­can point of view.

Me­dia cred­i­bil­ity and fair­ness are at is­sue, with wag­gish blog­gers re­nam­ing ABC the “All Barack Chan­nel.”

At is­sue is “Pre­scrip­tion for Amer­ica,” a live, one-hour spe­cial to be mod­er­ated by ABC’s Charles Gib­son and Diane Sawyer, set to air at 10 p.m. June 24 from the East Room. Even be­fore that prime-time hour, Ms. Sawyer will have in­ter­viewed Mr. Obama on “Good Morn­ing Amer­ica,” and Mr. Gib­son will have an­chored “World News Tonight” from the White House’s Blue Room.

Me­dia watch­dogs doubted the show would be bal­anced, and the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee was of­fi­cially irked.

“I don’t ex­pect a pure ‘in­fomer­cial,’ but likely some­thing close to it. The pro­gram­ming will ad­vance Pres­i­dent Obama’s agenda that we have a health care ‘cri­sis’ that must be re­solved, and Obama and his ‘so­lu­tions’ star. But ABC will prob­a­bly squeeze in a lit­tle time for con­trar­ian views,” said Brent Baker of the Me­dia Re­search Cen­ter.

Ken McCay, the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee chief of staff, on June 16 sent an open let­ter to ABC News Pres­i­dent David Westin, say­ing he was “deeply con­cerned and dis­ap­pointed with ABC’s as­ton­ish­ing de­ci­sion to ex­clude op­pos­ing voices on this crit­i­cal is­sue.”

“The Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee re­quested an op­por­tu­nity to add our party’s views to those of the pres­i­dent’s to en­sure that all sides of the health care re­form de­bate are pre­sented. Our re­quest was re­jected,” Mr. McKay said. “I find it ou­tra­geous that ABC would pro­hibit our party’s op­pos­ing thoughts and ideas from this na­tional de­bate.”

But ABC News Se­nior Vice Pres­i­dent Kerry Smith said Mr. McKay’s con­cerns were based on “false premises” and ar­gued that the pro­gram was meant to spark ro­bust de­bate.

“We hope that any Amer­i­can con­cerned about health care will find our ef­forts to be in­for­ma­tive, fair and civil,” Mr. Smith replied, also in an open let­ter. “ABC News prides it­self on cov­er­ing all sides of im­por­tant is­sues and ask­ing di­rect ques­tions of all newsmakers — of all po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sions — even when oth­ers have taken a more par­ti­san ap­proach.”

He de­nied that ABC would sim­ply be hand­ing Mr. Obama a prime-time “in­fomer­cial,” say­ing the net­work will treat it like any other news event.

“ABC News alone will se­lect those who will be in the au­di­ence ask­ing ques­tions of the pres­i­dent. Like any pro­grams we broad­cast, ABC News will have com­plete ed­i­to­rial con­trol. To sug­gest oth­er­wise is quite un­fair to both our jour­nal­ists and our au­di­ence,” he said.

That as­sur­ance did not ap­pease Mr. Baker’s con­cerns about bal­ance, since he sees ABC’s re­porters as push­ing an agenda.

“ABC’s in-house ex­pert, Dr. Tim John­son, has been a long­time ad­vo­cate for a ma­jor ex­pan­sion of the gov­ern­ment’s role in health care,” he said, not­ing that Dr. John­son will play a role in the up­com­ing spe­cial.

The White House has granted con­sid­er­able ac­cess to the other broad­cast net­works, mean­while.

CBS News gar­nered two “exclusive” in­ter­views with Mr. Obama in May.

Ear­lier this month, NBC News broad­cast “In­side the Obama White House,” a two-part spe­cial that used 32 cam­eras to chron­i­cle ev­ery nu­ance at 1600 Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue.

The net­work has of­fered sim­i­lar pro­gram­ming, it said, for more than 40 years — “pos­si­bly be­cause seven pres­i­dents placed their faith in the men and women of NBC News,” said Steve Ca­pus, pres­i­dent of NBC News.


In the bag? The up­com­ing ABC broad­cast “Pre­scrip­tion for Amer­ica” will be a live, one-hour spe­cial mod­er­ated by Diane Sawyer and Charles Gib­son.

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