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

Critics are blasting ABC News for its plan to televise blanket coverage of Barack Obama’s health care reform initiative, voicing concern that “the media and government [have] become one” and that the network is “virtually turning over news programming to the Obama government” for “a glorified infomercial to promote the Democrat agenda.”

The media ethics furor stems from ABC News’ announcement that next week the network will devote hours of news coverage 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.

Republican National Committee Chief of Staff Ken McKay was doubly incensed that ABC News reportedly rejected a Republican request to be allowed a response.

“As the national debate on health care reform intensifies, I am deeply concerned and disappointed with ABC’s astonishing decision to exclude opposing voices on this critical issue,” McKay wrote in a letter to ABC News President David Westin.

McKay’s letter detailed that in addition to the primetime town hall special, ABC News has also announced its “Good Morning America,” “World News,” “Nightline” and web news “will all feature special programming on the president’s health care agenda.”

“I am concerned this event will become a glorified infomercial to promote the Democrat agenda,” McKay wrote. “The Republican Party should be included in this primetime event, or the DNC should pay for your airtime.”

Roger Hedgecock, chairman of the Radio America Free Speech Foundation, suggested ABC News is endangering true freedom of the press by “virtually turning over news programming that night to the Obama government.”

“This ‘special’ will feature Obama government officials promoting the president’s proposal for government health care. No opposing views are allowed on the program,” Hedgecock wrote 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.”

Further, Hedgecock declared, “ABC News is in danger of becoming a propaganda organ for the Obama government.”

Matt Drudge, covering the story on his website, writes, “On the night of June 24, the media and government become one, when ABC turns its programming over to President Obama and White House officials to push government-run health care – a move that has ignited an ethical firestorm!”

Some, however, dispute that ABC News is doing anything unethical or endangering to the freedom of the press.

ABC News Senior Vice President Kerry Smith, for example, defended the network’s plans, arguing that members of the town hall audience will be selected by ABC News to include “diverse voices on this issue.”

“Like any programs we broadcast, ABC News will have complete editorial control,” Smith wrote in a response letter to the RNC’s charges. “To suggest otherwise is quite unfair to both our journalists and our audience.”

Jane Hall, a journalism professor at American University and Fox News contributor, further suggested that ABC News’ plans for coverage aren’t necessarily unusual.

“This is not unprecedented,” Hall told Fox News. “Every president has tried to use the bully pulpit to spread their message. I hope President Obama does have a range of questions, ranging from people who want a single-payer system to those who want the government to do less.”

Nonetheless, Hall suggested ABC News is walking a fine line and knows it.

“ABC News is going to have a balanced program,” Hall predicted. “They do not want to be criticized, they don’t want to look like they’re simply cheerleading for the president and his plan.”

ABC’s Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer will moderate the primetime special, which is scheduled to be broadcast from the East Room and televised at 10 p.m. on June 24. Coverage will then continue later on “Nightline” and the next morning, when Sawyer will interview Obama for “Good Morning America.”

ABC News’ announcement of the coverage plans, including instructions on how to participate in the discussion of health care, can be read below:

As the nation debates sweeping changes in health care, ABC News’ Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer will moderate a conversation with President Obama about this critical issue on the nation’s agenda. A special edition of Primetime “Questions for the President: Prescription for America” will air on Wednesday, June 24th from 10:00-11:00 p.m. EDT on the ABC Television Network.

During the discussion from the East Room of the White House, President Obama will answer questions from an audience made up of Americans selected by ABC News who have divergent opinions in this historic debate. ABC News’ Medical Editor Dr. Timothy Johnson will also take part in the conversation, which will focus on different ideas for how to fix the system and how proposed changes will impact our already fragile economy.

The health care conversation will continue on “Nightline” at 11:35 p.m. EDT.

Wednesday morning’s “Good Morning America” will originate from the South Lawn of the White House and will include an exclusive interview with President Obama. He sits down with Diane Sawyer to discuss health care and other issues on the nation’s agenda. Wednesday’s program will also feature portions of Robin Roberts’ exclusive interview with First Lady Michelle Obama.

Charles Gibson will anchor “World News” from the Blue Room of the White House on Wednesday. will invite viewers to join the discussion and share their questions about health care reform at starting Tuesday, June 16th. will also be working with to select popular questions voted on by online users. Some of those questions will be put to President Obama during the program. ABC News’ daily political webcast, “Top Line,” will focus on health care reform throughout the week of June 22. senior political reporter and author of the Note, Rick Klein, will live-blog and interact with users as the forum airs, and full video coverage of the forum will be posted online. A special section of dedicated to the health care debate will offer comprehensive coverage of the forum and will continue as legislation is taken up in Congress.

ABC News Radio will air portions of “Questions for the President: Prescription for America” and will also produce a special edition of its weekly news magazine “Perspective,” that will include portions of the special. “Perspective” will be available to ABC News Radio affiliates for use over the weekend of June 27-28.

Marc Burstein is the executive producer of the special edition of Primetime “Questions for the President: Prescription for America.”


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