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Eric Deggans

Eric Deggans

Posted: June 16, 2009 12:45 PM

Should President Obama's First Prime Time TV Discussion About his Health Care Plan Belong Solely to ABC News?


Barack Obama is a president who has no problem playing the media game.

From allowing two dozen NBC cameras access for a largely complimentary, two-night profile, to a lighthearted cameo in Stephen Colbert's week of shows from Iraq, Obama has shown a willingness to appear on camera in ways more traditional presidents have not.

But news that President Obama will discuss his new initiative to create a government-sponsored health care program during a day-long series of programs on ABC next week takes a universal concern and transforms it into a highly-promoted ABC News event.

Which raises a question: Is that really appropriate?

For President Obama, it's a nice deal. ABC News plans to air Good Morning America, World News Tonight and a special edition of Primetime from the White House itself, with the 10p.m. Primetime show featuring the President answering questions from people "selected by ABC News who have divergent opinions in this historic debate," along with questions submitted via its Web site, ABCNews.com, according to a press release.

ABC officials, with the elevated ratings of Brian Williams' White House special dancing in their heads, will turn almost every ABC News platform over to the event, with Diane Sawyer interviewing the president for GMA, Charlie Gibson anchoring the evening news from the White House, both Gibson and Sawyer teaming up for the town hall on Primetime, Nightline continuing the discussion at 11:35 p.m., ABC.com soliciting questions starting Wednesday and ABC News Radio airing segments from the event. Just writing about that much coverage tires me out.

Given the light touch of Williams' specials, will ABC News offer the kind of tough questions this debate deserves? Shouldn't the White House have organized its own town hall for broadcast on all major networks in prime time, to give this issue the attention it deserves? Will networks which offer critical coverage of the heath care initiative have to worry about getting locked out of the next big Obama media event?

Those involved would likely shrug off such hand-wringing. And it is admittedly dangerous to draw conclusions about what a TV news operation will cover before any of its programming airs.

But I find it disturbing to see that the nation's first stab at real health care reform in more than a dozen years may start off with a cynical partnership between a politician and a network news division. And it may take some pointed questions and close observation of ABC News' coverage to ensure

Here's hoping the debate we get is truly worth it.

See more discussion about the issue on my blog here.