Suggestive overlay of ABC News logo over Obama campaign logo, posted on one critic’s website

A newly formed group of U.S. congressmen called the Media Fairness Caucus fired off a letter of protest to ABC News today over the network’s planned coverage of President Obama’s health care reform initiatives, declaring the scheduled programming “gives the appearance of a state-run television network.”

“Without giving time to an opposing viewpoint,” the letter signed by 40 U.S. representatives states, “ABC News’ programming on June 24 will amount to a day-long infomercial for the president and his government-run health care plan.

“We urge you,” the letter concludes, “to give the American people the facts and let them make up their own minds, not tell them what to think.”

As WND reported, ABC News announced last week that the network will devote hours of news coverage tomorrow to the president’s plan, televise a primetime “town hall” discussion on the topic called “Questions for the President: Prescription for America” and anchor its nightly “World News” program from inside the White House.

Critics raised red flags immediately, especially after it was learned that Republican legislators would not be allowed time on ABC News for rebuttal to the president’s plan.

“This ‘special’ will feature Obama government officials promoting the president’s proposal for government health care. No opposing views are allowed on the program,” said Roger Hedgecock, chairman of the Radio America Free Speech Foundation, in a statement. “For ABC News to present only the Obama government side of this important issue would betray the public interest in a free press.”

The letter from the Media Fairness Caucus, chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, echoes Hedgecock’s concern:

“The manner in which the news programming is being presented – at the White House with the president and first lady and without opposition – is unprofessional and contrary to the journalistic code of ethics to present the news fairly and independently,” the letter states. “This is not a presidential news conference open to all news outlets. This is an exclusive arrangement from which the president and his viewpoint stand to gain. It’s as if ABC News is providing in-kind free advertising for President Obama.”

The Media Fairness Caucus, however, points out that there is a distinction between the “fairness” that it is calling for in ABC News’ coverage of the health care plan and the equal time restrictions placed upon talk radio and television under the former, government-imposed “Fairness Doctrine”:

“This is not television commentary or talk radio where the public expects to hear conservative or liberal opinions,” the Caucus writes. “Supposedly, this is ABC News presenting unbiased news programming.”

ABC News President David Westin, in turn, responded to the Caucus’ letter with a public letter of his own:

“Contrary to your assertions, this will not be ‘slanted’ in any way – much less a ‘day-long infomercial’ or ‘in-kind free advertising,'” Westin writes. “It will be a thoughtful, respectful, probing discussion of the some of the issues raised by the calls for health care reform. We will include a variety of perspectives coming from private individuals asking the president questions and taking issue with him as they see fit.

“We have already heard at some length (on ABC News and other outlets) from politicians and professional health care lobbyists,” the letter continues. “I can see no reason why we should not hear tomorrow instead from some of the Americans most directly affected by the plans being discussed.”

Westin’s response then accuses “some” of using this controversy as material for “political high theatre.”

“I would have thought that a subject as important as the health care received by the American people would rise above this sorry spectacle,” Westin writes. “We are proud to be making a serious effort to go beyond mere punditry or stylized, bipolar debate.”

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas

In explaining the reason for the formation of the Media Fairness Caucus, Rep. Smith told Fox News Channel’s Bill Hemmer that many members of Congress are worried “about the liberal media bias that we see every single day.”

“The most recent poll says only nine percent of the American public see the media are objective and fair,” Smith said. “They have a huge credibility gap, and two-to-one they think the media are liberal, not conservative.”

He continued, “To me, the greatest threat to America is not necessarily a recession, or another terrorist attack. The greatest threat to America is a liberal media bias. And I think that because, if the American people don’t get the facts, they can’t make good decisions. And if the American people can’t make good decisions, then our democracy is threatened.”

Smith also added, “The media have given the Obama administration a free pass. In fact, President Obama has gotten three times the positive coverage that President Bush got in his first three months in office. There’s very little criticism.”

In somewhat veiled, but clearly related news, the Republican National Committee released today a national cable ad attacking “a national TV network” for “turn[ing] its airwaves over to President Obama’s pitch for government-run health care.”

Video of that ad can be seen below:

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