ABC News Advertising Review May Explain Why Conservatives Were Locked Out of Health Care Shows

December 18th, 2009 1:52 AM

Last June, as Newsbusters readers will remember, ABC allowed President Obama to pitch his health care proposal in a special edition of ABC's Primetime hosted by retiring World News anchor Charlie Gibson and (now incoming anchor) Diane Sawyer.  Obama was given additional airtime to pitch his health care agenda that evening on Nightline. 

Conservatives didn't get equal time.

Worse, ABC News even refused to allow the conservative group Conservatives for Patients Rights to purchase paid advertising to put out an alternative perspective.

Immediately afterward, the National Center for Public Policy Research (full disclosure: which I work for) began a multi-month review of the commercials run on World News.  We found something interesting.

In the 98 broadcast days of ABC World News advertising logged by National Center Executive Director David Almasi and analyzed by Policy Analyst Matt Patterson, ABC's World News broadcast featured 1,102 commercials, 597 of which were placed by member companies of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) trade association, representing 54.17 percent of total commercials aired.

PhRMA very aggressively supports President Obama's health care agenda.

David Almasi doesn't think it's a coincidence.

"It's clear that World News relies on the members of PhRMA to sponsor it," Almasi says.  "Ford and Proctor and Gamble are reliable sponsors, but the overwhelming amount of paid ads were for drugs pushed by the members of this very powerful and very political trade association.  Ad after ad on World News comes from members of the drug lobby group PhRMA.  It's almost laughable how many ads they run each day.  If they were to stop, it would seem doubtful the broadcasts could continue."

Says Matt Patterson, who analyzed and wrote a report on the findings, "ABC News seems to have a significant financial stake in the success of ObamaCare.  Should we be surprised that they hand over an hour to Obama to promote his plan, while shutting out opposing views?"

"There was not one day in which the members of PhRMA were not major advertisers on World News," Almasi adds.  "It's hard to believe that the producers of the program don't have this on their minds when they are selecting the issues they cover.  CBS burned off the series Swingtown two summers ago because the network found advertisers weren't interested...  NBC cancelled Southland before the second season even aired because of concerns the show... would be unacceptable to advertisers.  The concerns of advertisers do drive content.  With so many PhRMA members sponsoring World News, it would be hard not to think that people at the network are always mindful of who is paying their bills.  PhRMA makes no bones about its support for ObamaCare, and PhRMA's member companies appear to be the lifeblood of ABC's flagship World News program."

Patterson recalls something Newsbusters readers won't have forgotten: White House Communications Director Anita Dunn attacked the legitimacy of Fox News in October and White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod said of Fox's news programming, "it's really not news."  Patterson notes that the White House has shown no similar concern for objectivity at ABC: "ABC appears willing to turn over large chunks of its news programming to a politician, if that politician is backed by companies representing more than half of their advertisements.  And for the President, it seems it's OK for a news organization to support a point of view - so long as it's his."