Should Barack Obama's prime time health care discussion belong solely to ABC News?
From allowing two dozen NBC cameras access for a slavering, 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-run health care program during a daylong series of programs on ABC June 24 takes a universal concern and makes 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 10 p.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, ABC News Radio airing segments from the event and their radio magazine Perspective offering coverage.
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, but it is disturbing to see the nation's first stab at real health care reform in more than a dozen years start off with such a cynical partnership between a politician and a network news division.
Here's hoping the debate we get is truly worth it.