As indignation turned to outrage Thursday among critics of an ABC News prime-time special on President Obama's health care policy, The Washington Times has learned that ABC employees gave 80 times as much money to Mr. Obama's 2008 campaign for president than to his rival's.
According to an analysis of campaign donations by the Center for Responsive Politics, conducted at The Times' request, ABC employees in several divisions donated $124,421 to the Obama campaign, compared with $1,550 to the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain.
The 60-minute ABC program, to air live from the White House on Wednesday, is sparking hardball politics in other ways. Grass-roots boycotts, Republican outcry and a study citing media bias are all part of the mix.
A study released Thursday by the Business & Media Institute (BMI) found that since Inauguration Day, ABC has aired news stories with positive reviews of Mr. Obama's health care policy 55 times, compared with 18 times when the network highlighted negative reviews.
Citing Census Bureau figures, the BMI analyses also accused ABC of "exaggerating the breadth of the uninsured problem," saying the network's claim that up to 50 million Americans are uninsured is false.
"ABC is in bed with their source, so to speak. ABC is supposed to be a news organization, not a producer of infomercials for national health care. And I wonder what they would have done if the Bush administration had asked for positive programming to support the war on terror or Social Security initiatives," said Dan Gainor, BMI vice president of business and culture.
Longtime Democratic strategist Tad Devine, however, said he detected the vast right-wing conspiracy of the last Democratic administration, and warned Republicans that complaining could backfire.
"It's the same old, same old from Republicans. People who run political parties have a responsibility to get their side of the story out, and they're attacking ABC to do that. ABC is the vehicle," said Mr. Devine, whose Democratic roots go back to the presidential ticket of Jimmy Carter and Walter F. Mondale.
"Republicans think they must undercut news organizations who give President Obama favorable coverage - or they will lose elections. They're going to go after anyone who gives Obama a showcase," Mr. Devine said. "But it could backfire. If the GOP keeps this up, everyone will tune into that ABC special on Wednesday."
An informal online poll at the New York Daily News on Thursday found that 75 percent of the respondents did not "trust" ABC to provide even-handed coverage. And conservative bloggers have been intensely critical of ABC in recent days.
"I'm not watching ABC entertainment, and I'm not watching their news programming either," said New York-based Karen Dougherty, who writes LonelyConservative.com, one of many blogs issuing a call for boycotts of ABC and its advertisers.
The broadcast, they say, is tantamount to an infomercial for the administration, made worse by the fact that ABC also will broadcast "World News Tonight" from the White House on Wednesday.
"It's not enough to say that ABC is exercising terrible journalistic judgment. The American public has to let ABC know that these decisions matter. As a believer in the marketplace, I think that an advertiser boycott is the way to deal with this unseemly display of media partisanship. After all, every American has a voice in the marketplace," said Sunny Berman of Bookwormroom.com, another conservative blog based in California.
An ABC executive responded to criticisms with the following:
"We welcome feedback from an audience in whatever form it might take. The top and bottom line is that we intend to produce a fair, probing and thoughtful discussion about a vitally important issue," said Jeffrey Schneider, senior vice president of ABC News communications.
The Republican National Committee disagrees.
Denied a chance to question Mr. Obama on his policy or buy advertising time on the program, Republicans said ABC denied them equal time for the town-hall-style event, accusing the network of turning over "its entire programming over to President Obama and his big-government agenda," RNC Chairman Michael S. Steele said in the organization's second public letter to the network in 48 hours.
ABC's Mr. Schneider called the Steele letter "a little sad. But that's how it all goes down. First you leak a letter from the RNC chief of staff to the press - all based on false premises - then the chairman writes something and riles everybody up. Then you ask for money. That's politics 101."