Obama/ABC and Congress, behind the scenes

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By now the jury is out on how ABC handled its four-program health marathon with President Barack Obama. But before it ran, the Congressional Media Fairness Caucus took ABC News to task for today’s programs to discuss health policy with President Barack Obama, calling the arrangement a breach of ethics and tantamount to granting free advertising to Obama. ABC News President David Westin stoutly defended the network’s decisions. The Caucus is headed by Lamar Smith (R-TX).


The Caucus did not pull its punches in criticizing ABC. It wrote, “The manner in which news programming is being presented at the White House with the President and First Lady and without opposition – is unprofessional and contrary to the journalistic code of ethics to present the news fairly and independently. This is not a Presidential news conference open to all news media. This is an exclusive arrangement from which the President and his viewpoint stand to gain. It’s as if ABC News is providing in-kind free advertising for President Obama.

Westin thanked the Caucus for its concern, and replied, “Unfortunately, you have found it appropriate to criticize a program that has not yet aired. Contrary to your assertions, this will not be ‘slanted’ in any way — much less a ‘day-long infomercial’ or ‘in-kind free advertising’ as you allege. It will be a thoughtful, respectful, and probing discussion of some of the issues raised by the calls for health-care reform. We will include a variety of perspectives coming from private individuals asking the President questions and taking issue with him, as they see fit.” He added that there will be ample time for “politicians and professional health care lobbyists” to weigh in, but that this event was for the benefit of ordinary citizens who aren’t often heard when health care is being debated.

The Caucus also named a pair associated with ABC News as lowering their expectation of a fair program – first Linda Douglass, who it said left ABC about a year ago to join the Obama campaign; and current employee Dr. Timothy Johnson, who was said to have “a long history of promoting government-managed universal health care.”

Westin supplied a correction regarding Douglass, saying she in fact left ABC four years ago for an association with New York University and the Rockefeller Foundation, and then came to the defense of Johnson. He said, “I entirely reject your attack on my colleague, Dr. Timothy Johnson. Dr. Johnson has established himself over many years as the foremost medical editor in television news. His knowledge about health care reform is surpassed only by his commitment to the truth and to fairness.”