ABC News: Playing with Fire?

16Jun09

ABC News is playing with fire. It seems that in an effort to jump on NBC’s ratings boost with their two part series on President Obama’s day-to-day life, ABC News has put together their own Obamafest for June 24th in which their news coverage for the day will center on the President’s plan for a government sponsored health care system. Kicking off the day with an interview by Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America with the President and ending with a special edition of Nightline where the President will have a town hall meeting to answer questions from an audience selected by ABC and from viewers at home.

The Republican National Committee is complaining, saying that they asked to be included as an opposing view but were rejected. They say that this is a one-sided conversation that is just pandering to the President. One can kind of see where the RNC is coming from. That much coverage of the President’s health care plan in one day by one network does seem a little exhaustive, but I feel like we’re missing some information that keeps us from being able to make a judgement.

First, news being fair and balanced doesn’t mean giving both sides equal airtime and space. If one side is completely factually wrong, irrelevant or an unimportant stakeholder then no, they should get equal time and space as more important stakeholders in the story. The RNC has little power right now. The stakeholders who matter in the passing of the President’s plan are the President, Congress, and the people (that’s us!). It seems like ABC has all those people covered in this special.

Second, it doesn’t seem like this event was framed as a debate over health care like so many we saw during the election. It seems more like a town hall meeting where we are able to question the President’s plans for our health care, a rare opportunity. An official opponent like the RNC doesn’t really seem appropriate. The opponent is us.

The questions I think this does raise is all this coverage does seem like a lot of pandering either to get on the President’s good side (don’t know why journalists should care about that though) or just to get ratings. Yes, the conversation with the President is a good idea, but throwing in all this extra coverage seems like overkill. I’d also like to know who approached who with this idea. Was it the network or the President? If it was the President, then I would be worried that ABC is taking a first step to marrying government with a news network. One time, fine. Twice, scary. Government has no business controlling editorial decisions of the news or funding the news. That cripples journalists in their ability to do their job: serving citizens of democracy so they can govern themselves. That can’t happen if their is an Obama News Network.

I don’t think it’s time to cry foul yet. ABC News asserts that the President has nothing to do with the editorial content, that they are choosing the questions and the participants to cover all angles and opinions of the issue. They say it would be insulting to them as journalists to say otherwise. I hope their right. I’m inclined to believe that the RNC and Drudge Report is blowing this out of proportion. I’m giving ABC News the benefit of the doubt, but I’ll just have to watch the special myself before I can judge on way or the other.

Watch Questions for the President: Prescription for America with me on June 24th starting with Primetime at 10 p.m. Eastern and followed by Nightline at 11:35 Eastern. Look for a post from me with my thoughts on how ABC did.

In the spirit of full transparency my sources for this post were found at ABC News, Huffington Post, The Drudge Report, the Associated Press, and Fox News.

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One Response to “ABC News: Playing with Fire?”

  1. This is a great post, Char. I really enjoy hearing your thoughts on this sort of thing, especially since it’s sort of your area of expertise. 🙂 Way to deal with the topic clearly and without bias!


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