ABC FEELS THE HEAT AFTER BIZARRE BREITBART INVITATION…. Even for those of us who expect very little from major media outlets, the news late on Friday was depressing. ABC News had invited right-wing propagandist Andrew Breitbart to be part of the network’s election-night team, and when asked about the decision, the network said the dishonest hatchet-man “will be one of many voices on our air.”
The decision immediately became a point of embarrassment for ABC News, and even people in the network’s own newsroom were troubled by the announcement. By mid-day yesterday, the network was clarifying its decision, and ABC News Digital’s executive producer Andrew Morse issued a statement:
Mr. Breitbart is not an ABC News analyst.
He is not an ABC News consultant.
He is not, in any way, affiliated with ABC News.
He is not being paid by ABC News.
He has not been asked to analyze the results of the election for ABC News.
Mr. Breitbart will not be a part of the ABC News broadcast coverage, anchored by Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos. For the broadcast coverage, David Muir and Facebook’s Randi Zuckerberg will contribute reaction and response gathered from the students and faculty of Arizona State University at an ABC News/Facebook town hall.
He has been invited as one of several guests, from a variety of different political persuasions, to engage with a live, studio audience that will be closely following the election results and participating in an online-only discussion and debate to be moderated by David Muir and Facebook’s Randi Zuckerberg on ABCNews.com and Facebook. We will have other guests, as well as a live studio audience and a large audience on ABCNews.com and Facebook, who can question the guests and the audience’s opinions.
Or, to summarize, Breitbart is just going to be on ABC’s website, so stop yelling.
What’s interesting about this is not just the defensive tone — I can only assume ABC received quite a few phone calls yesterday — but also the ways in which it seems different from what those involved were saying the day before. On Friday, ABC said Breitbart “will be … on our air.” Breitbart himself boasted about being “featured” in ABC’s “election night coverage,” bringing “live” analysis.
Nearly 24 hours later, however, ABC News wants us to know Breitbart will be “participating in an online-only discussion.”
I’m not in a position to say for sure whether this was ABC’s plan all along, or if the network switched gears in the face of criticism. But I am glad the criticism was loud enough for ABC to hear it and respond.
I’d just add one nagging detail: online broadcasts count. Breitbart is a far-right activist with a history of deceiving the public, and credible news outlets with professional standards should want nothing to do with him. I’m glad he won’t be part of ABC’s on-air coverage, but what ABC News features on its website matters, and can reflect well or poorly on the news team itself. In the 21st century, “it’s only online” is no longer an excuse.