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April 01, 2006

ABC Getting It Backwards, Again

Well, I'm back from Greece (which was great), though still spinally impaired (which sucks, big time). However, being forced to write while lying on your back is no excuse for not blogging, so here goes.

Today's WaPo reports that ABC News has decided to suspend producer John Green for one month without pay for his leaked private emails saying that listening to President Bush "makes him sick" and former SecState Madeline Albright "has Jew shame" and that he did not like her. Howard Kurtz' piece goes on to observe that:

Both e-mails were disclosed at a time when public distrust of news organizations and their ability to be fair are at or near an all-time high.

Kurtz ends his article by quoting ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider:

Everyone who works at ABC News is unhappy with the situation because it reflects on all of us. But, I don't think the e-mails tell us anything about the show John Green was putting on the air every Saturday and Sunday, which is fair and balanced and down the middle.

The problem, as ABC sees it, is that Green was guilty of the cardinal sin of allowing his personal views to be leaked into the public record, thereby encouraging the public to see ABC news as having a political axe to grind. This is precisely backward. From my perspective, the problem with Green's inadvertent disclosures is not that he has strong personal views about Bush or Albright, but rather that his distaste for Bush is widely shared among his colleagues. Green's mistake was allowing the outside world a glimpse of this shared worldview.

I would much rather prefer a media that was open about its prejudices, but reflected a diversity of views in the newsroom. In an environment where reporters' and editors' views were similar to those of the American people -- that is to say evenly split between Democrats and Republicans -- there would have to be polite respect for the views of the other side of the ideological divide.

Finally, there is something distasteful about punishing someone for views expressed in a private email leaked by a disgruntled former colleague. Better for ABC to have said these were personal views, privately expressed, which have nothing to do with the editorial position of ABC News. But this would have required ABC to have genuine confidence in the broad spectrum of political views held by its staffers. Unfortunately, this is manifestly not the case.

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April 1, 2006 at 10:32 AM | Permalink

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