It’s a supposedly objective news outlet, yet ABC News is cozying up with the White House for a health care special to assist President Barack Obama in selling his plan. But according to ABC’s “Good Morning America” co-host Diane Sawyer, there’s nothing wrong with it. In fact, she’s proud of ABC.
Sawyer appeared on CNN’s June 21 “Reliable Sources” by phone in an interview with host Howard Kurtz, media columnist of The Washington Post.
“Again, ABC, I’m so proud of ABC,” Sawyer said. “And I hope that there is some recognition for the fact that this network is trying to tackle a serious issue in a serious way, and we are doing something that we would love to see a lot more air time dedicated to. What is more important than a dialogue about health care? It is not an infomercial. ABC News does not do that. We will be there, and these people in this room are going to be able to ask questions from every single vantage point. And they are going to challenge the president, many of them.”
Sawyer’s insistence that health care is the most important issue to Americans isn’t necessarily true. According to polling data, independents, the most important constituencies according to some in the media, are more concerned about federal government spending and the mounting deficits than the health care reform issue. Still, Sawyer deflected the criticism and said it wasn’t a political issue.
“And as I said, this is not a Republican or a Democratic issue,” Sawyer said. “It’s an American issue. And I don't think Republicans or Democrats can argue that only people on Capitol Hill should be addressing this issue. We should have a great debate about these issues with people on the front lines as well.”
Kurtz asked Sawyer if the opponents of Obama’s health care reform were “working the refs” to force ABC News to be more critical of Obama.
“I don’t know whether they are or not, but our job is to have a serious conversation,” Sawyer said. “This is not theater. This is too important. And we have to bring the issues and the questions, the strongest questions we can.”
Sawyer also explained this town hall format had been done before by the network, but never under a Republican president.
“And ABC has done town hall forums before,” Sawyer said. “We did one on guns with Bill Clinton and then came back a year later and did another one. And they were extremely vital and robust debates about an important issue in the country. And we had talked to the Bush administration, which didn't feel I think in many ways it was a forum they felt was best for them.”
Kurtz asked Sawyer to respond to criticisms that even Obama joked about in his June 19 Radio and TV Correspondents’ Dinner Speech – that members of the media have been too cozy with the Obama administration.
“I can’t address the overarching perceptions of the media,” Sawyer said. “I know that our network has worked very, very hard to be completely – completely responsible and fair and serious about big issues. And that was comedy.”
And according to Sawyer, ABC News’ emphasis on this issue had little to do with the marketability of Obama, but instead that her organization maintains this is an “important” issue.
“I’m sure – I’m sure that there are a lot of people out there who feel that that’s true,” Sawyer said. “In this issue, and I keep coming back to it because I don’t want to conflate anything here, what is more important for us to talk about than health care? What is more important for us to begin to form democratic responses to, than health care? And that’s why we are doing this.”