- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Relations between ABC News and President Obama are being criticized as becoming too intimate, as the network announced it would produce a prime-time broadcast from the White House that includes questions solicited from viewers without equal time for the Republican point of view.

Media credibility and fairness are at issue, with waggish bloggers renaming ABC the “All Barack Channel.”

At issue is “Prescription for America,” a live, one-hour special to be moderated by ABC’s Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer, set to air at 10 p.m. June 24 from the East Room. Even before that prime-time hour, Ms. Sawyer will have interviewed Mr. Obama on “Good Morning America,” and Mr. Gibson will have anchored “World News Tonight” from the White House’s Blue Room.

Media watchdogs doubted the show would be balanced, and the Republican National Committee was officially irked.

“I don’t expect a pure ‘infomercial,’ but likely something close to it. The programming will advance President Obama’s agenda that we have a health care ‘crisis’ that must be resolved, and Obama and his ‘solutions’ star. But ABC will probably squeeze in a little time for contrarian views,” said Brent Baker of the Media Research Center.

Ken McCay, the Republican National Commitee chief of staff, sent an open letter Monday night to ABC News President David Westin, saying he was “deeply concerned and disappointed with ABC’s astonishing decision to exclude opposing voices on this critical issue.”

“The Republican National Committee requested an opportunity to add our party’s views to those of the president’s to ensure that all sides of the health care reform debate are presented. Our request was rejected,” Mr. McKay said. “I find it outrageous that ABC would prohibit our party’s opposing thoughts and ideas from this national debate.”

But ABC News Senior Vice President Kerry Smith said Mr. McKay’s concerns were based on “false premises” and argued that the program was meant to spark robust debate.

“We hope that any American concerned about health care will find our efforts to be informative, fair and civil,” Mr. Smith replied, also in an open letter. “ABC News prides itself on covering all sides of important issues and asking direct questions of all newsmakers - of all political persuasions - even when others have taken a more partisan approach.”

He denied that ABC would simply be handing Mr. Obama a prime-time “infomercial,” saying the network will treat it like any other news event.

“ABC News alone will select those who will be in the audience asking questions of the president. Like any programs we broadcast, ABC News will have complete editorial control. To suggest otherwise is quite unfair to both our journalists and our audience,” he said.

That assurance did not appease Mr. Baker’s concerns about balance, since he sees ABC’s reporters as pushing an agenda.

“ABC’s in-house expert, Dr. Tim Johnson, has been a longtime advocate for a major expansion of the government’s role in health care,” he said, noting that Dr. Johnson will play a role in the upcoming special.

The White House has granted considerable access to the other broadcast networks, meanwhile.

CBS News garnered two “exclusive” interviews with Mr. Obama in May.

Earlier this month, NBC News broadcast “Inside the Obama White House,” a two-part special that used 32 cameras to chronicle every nuance at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The network has offered similiar programming, it said, for more than 40 years - “possibly because seven presidents placed their faith in the men and women of NBC News,” said Steve Capus, president of NBC News.

• Jennifer Harper can be reached at jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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