David Westin Reacts Testily to Congressional Critics of ABC News Obamacare Show

June 24th, 2009 9:03 AM

It seems that congressional criticism about the fairness of the ABC News Obamacare show tonight has struck a nerve in the president of that organization, David Westin to such an extent that he has responded via letter in a less than pleased manner. What sparked this testy reaction was a letter signed by 40 members of Congress that was sent yesterday by the Congressional Media Fairness Caucus to ABC News president, David Westin, criticizing the fairness of the health care special:

Dear Mr. Westin,

Health care reform is an extemely complex issue involving one of the largest sectors of the economy. Directly or indirectly, it will touch the lives of all Americans. The decision by ABC News officials to devote an entire day, June 24, to the "President's health care agenda" culminating with a primetime healthcare "town hall" gives the American people a slanted view of an important subject. 

The manner in which the 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 outlets. 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. 

The Director of Communications for the White House Office of Health Reform, Linda Douglass, left her job with ABC News last year to join the Obama campaign. This does little to alleviate concerns about the objectivity of the event. Furthermore, ABC News' in-house medical expert, Dr. Timothy Johnson, has a long history of promoting government-managed univeral health care. It all gives the appearance of a state-run network. 

Millions of Americans don't want the government to come between them and their physicians. We take no issue with the President addressing the nation. But if ABC News wants to make this event useful to the American people, it should present both sides and offer the opportunity for rebuttal. 

...Without giving time to an opposing viewpoint,  ABC News' programming on June 24 will amount to a day-long infomercial for the president and his government-run health care plan. 

Strong but accurate criticism and David Westin was not pleased at all as you can see in his reponse:

Thank you for your letter of today’s date concerning our planned coverage tomorrow of health care reform in America.  I am pleased that you agree that the subject deserves extensive and careful coverage.  This is precisely what ABC News has given healthcare over many years; it is what we plan to continue tomorrow.

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.  We have heard already at some length (on ABC News and other outlets) from politicians and professional health care lobbyists, and there will be ample time to hear from them throughout the policy debate.  I can see no reason why we should not hear tomorrow instead from some of the Americans most directly affected by the plans being discussed.

That "inclusion" defense rings hollow since government health care supporter, Timothy Johson, will be participating in this Obama care show while as of this writing, a prominent ABC News critic of the program, John Stossel, will NOT be part of the show. Give me a break!

Westin's anger then kicks into high gear:

Sadly, some inside government and within the private sector see every issue as material for a sort of political high theatre, to be used to gain votes or energize political bases or simply to raise funds.  I would have thought that a subject as important as the health care received by the American people would rise above this sorry spectacle.  Our citizens need and deserve more.  We are proud to be making a serious effort to go beyond mere punditry or stylized, bipolar debate; we are proud to work for a network and a company willing to devote valuable airtime to serious consideration of a subject so worthy.

"Bipolar debate?" Is that a David Westin putdown of presenting both sides? 

Westin also jumps to the defense of Timothy Johnson, loyal upholder of government-run health care:

Finally, on a note of personal privilege, 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.  

John Stossel also has quite a bit of knowledge about health care "reform," and has been writing quite a bit about it lately on his blog. However, as of now, Stossel won't be attending tonight's Obamacare love fest despite being a member of ABC News.

Finally Westin invokes the time line defense about the involvement of former ABC News member,  Linda Douglas, in this Obamacare show:

As for Linda Douglass, she did indeed cover Congress for ABC News.  But she left us nearly four years ago to become a fellow at New York University and to work at the Rockefeller Foundation.

However, as Scott Whitlock has pointed out here in NewsBusters, Linda Douglass is continuing to shill for Obama on ABC:

Former journalist Linda Douglass returned to ABC and appeared on "Good Morning America" Wednesday in her new role as a strategist and spokesperson for Barack Obama. Expressing no surprise or conflict that a longtime reporter would segue from recounting the news to representing a Democratic presidential candidate, GMA news anchor Chris Cuomo breezily introduced, "We're going to begin with someone representing Obama, whom we know very well here at ABC News. Linda Douglass, a former, respected journalist, a longtime ABC News family member. But now Linda is an Obama campaign strategist and spokesperson.

David Westin's little temper tantrum aside, ABC News would have served the public better if they did have a "bipolar," (as he calls it) not stacked-deck, debate on this subject.

And, David, what will John Stossel be doing tonight? Sitting safely on the sidelines?