ABC News in flap over health care special

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - ABC News has drawn fire for an upcoming special on President Barack Obama’s health care plan after rejecting a Republican request for airtime.

The network’s news telecasts on June 24 will originate at the White House: “Good Morning America” on the South Lawn and Charles Gibson anchoring “World News” from the Blue Room, in addition to a primetime special, “Questions for the President: Prescription for America,” moderated by Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer.

During the special, the president will discuss his health care plan and answer questions from a cross-section of Americans. But the event will not include an official Republican Party response, prompting the Republican National Committee to complain to the network.

“I find it outrageous that ABC would prohibit our party’s opposing thoughts and ideas from this national debate, which affects millions of ABC viewers,” wrote RNC chief of staff Ken McKay in a letter posted on Drudge Report. “I am concerned this event will become a glorified infomercial to promote the Democrat agenda. If that is the case, this primetime infomercial should be paid for out of the DNC coffers. President Obama does not hold a monopoly on health care reform ideas or on free airtime.”

ABC News responded to the complaint, saying that other points of view will be included in the network’s coverage.

“ABC News is looking for the most thoughtful and diverse voices on this issue,” wrote Kerry Smith, senior vice president of ABC News. “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. No one watching ... ABC News will lack for an understanding of all sides of these important questions.”

Roy Peter Clark, media ethicist at the Poynter Institute, sided with ABC in the flap.

“I see no ethical requirement for ABC to say ‘we’re highlighting the president’s plan today so we need the official Republican response,’” Clark said. “It’s much more important for the network to test the claims the administration makes about its policies -- that will be the test of fairness, not some sort of ritual nod to the other side. The real issue is whether the American people get a full range of arguments and choices over a period of time.”