A ‘prescription’ for a manufactured controversy

A ‘PRESCRIPTION’ FOR A MANUFACTURED CONTROVERSY…. A week from tomorrow, President Obama will sit down with ABC News’ Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer for a prime-time discussion on health care policy. It’s scheduled to be called “Questions for the President: Prescription for America.”

It doesn’t seem like the kind of interview/forum that would spark a controversy. A national debate on health care policy is beginning; Americans have concerns; and the president is apparently anxious to explore this in more depth. Gibson and Sawyer will no doubt ask plenty of pointed questions, and Obama will have plenty of GOP talking points to respond to. What’s more, ABC, in addition to the assembled audience, will reportedly work with Digg to let viewers have input into which questions get asked.

Sounds like a reasonable approach to a major policy debate? Well, it depends on who you ask.

The RNC and conservative blogs in general are outraged by the discussion. Drudge insisted earlier that ABC is “turn[ing] its programming over to President Obama and White House officials to push government run health care,” adding that “the media and government [will] become one.”

Republican National Committee Chief of Staff Ken McKay wrote to ABC News last night, calling the health care discussion with Obama “astonishing,” because viewers will be hearing from the president, and not members of the congressional minority party. McKay suggested the program may “become a glorified infomercial to promote the Democrat [sic] agenda” (yes, even in formal correspondence, the RNC uses incorrect grammar, on purpose) and demanded that “the Republican Party … be included in this primetime event.”

Kerry Smith, ABC News’ senior VP, responded to the RNC today.

…ABC News announced plans to broadcast a primetime hour from the White House devoted to exploring and probing the President’s position and giving voice to questions and criticisms of that position. We hope that any American concerned about health care will find our efforts to be informative, fair and civil.

Second, 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 and even in the face of criticism from extremes on both ends of the political spectrum. ABC News is looking for the most thoughtful and diverse voices on this issue. 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.

Third, there already has been extensive coverage of the upcoming health care debates, on ABC and elsewhere, and there will be much, much more. Indeed, we’ve already had many critics of the President’s health care proposals on the air — and that’s before a real plan has even been put before the country.

I suspect the RNC and its allies are just trying to work the refs, hoping that by throwing a fit now, they can push Gibson and Sawyer to push more absurd questions during the program.

In the end, though, it seems like a rather strange thing for Republican activists to get worked up about.