Review: ABC News played straight


A TV critic for the Baltimore Sun said there was no evidence that ABC News was anything but impartial going into its day-long collaboration with President Barack Obama on health care. But that said, it was clear that Obama controlled the message.

The Sun’s David Zurawik said that during the kick-off event on “Good Morning America,” Diane Sawyer asked “plenty of well-researched and pointed questions.” And during the main event, the town hall setting on “Primetime,” the audience also asked pointed questions. Not only that, Zurawik gave anchor Charles Gibson credit for asking “solid” follow-up questions.

How did Obama control the message? Simple.

That’s it. He kept it simple. We have a crisis on our hands. If we don’t act it will get worse. I have a plan, but we’ll set aside the details for now. But with hard work and input from the best experts, we’ll get it done.

Zurawik said that no question or follow-up question could budge Obama beyond this simple theme.

In fact, Zurawik said that Obama won the town hall event before it had even really gotten started. Gibson asked those attending to raise their hand if they believed America’s health care system was in need of change. When everyone raised their hands, in Zurawik’s opinion, it was already game, set and match before the first question was even asked.

RBR/TVBR observation: Obama isn’t the first politician to master the media and control the message and the event. We didn’t notice his predecessor, George W. Bush, straying from his message very often. Bill Clinton and especially Ronald Reagan also had reputations as master communicators. As a network, you can ask the question but you can’t dictate the answer – you go toe-to-toe with a master and you take your chances.