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ABC = Always Biased Coverage?

By Peter RoffFellow, Institute for Liberty/Former Senior Political Writer, United Press International

It should come as little surprise that the once venerable ABC News has announced it would broadcast an upcoming edition of its "World News" from the White House's Blue Room, followed by a national town hall meeting on healthcare held in the East Room and presided over by President Barack Obama.

It's a ratings stunt, easily explained by the fact that the network needs them so badly. Tuesday's Nielsen ratings - which the network disputes - show that ABC's evening news broadcast is attracting its smallest audience in decades.

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The important thing for Republicans is to be part of the debate, not whine about being excluded.

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More than that, however, it's politics in the media at its worst. By turning the network over to Obama to pitch the American people on his healthcare reform plan, ABC has joined the lobbying arm of the White House and the Democratic Party. The presentation that will be made to the American people will not be, to borrow a phrase, "fair and balanced." Instead, it will include no viewpoint other than Obama's, despite ABC's promise that the network - and the network "alone will select those who will be in the audience asking questions of the president," said ABC News Senior Vice President Kerry Smith.

That the network has chosen to throw in with the president on healthcare reform is little surprise. The director of communications at the White House Office of Health Reform is former ABC News reporter Linda Douglass, who left the network to join Obama's campaign. And it doesn't take too much creativity to imagine that she probably helped broker a deal between her new boss and her old.

Leaving that aside, however, the Republican and conservative response to the announced programming was, as is typical, to whine that they were not being included. Begging for scraps from the monarch's table is the wrong strategy.

The right strategy is to come up with ideas of their own, like buying television ads that would appear throughout the day laying out the case for the patient-based approach to healthcare reform and why it is superior to the government-run approach. Of course this would depend on ABC's willingness to put the ads on the air, something it told the group Conservatives for Patients' Rights it would not do Wednesday afternoon after it asked to buy time just before the town meeting went on the air.

The right strategy has the proponents of the patient-centered approach to healthcare committing to holding a televised town meeting of their own, where attendance is not governed by the need to be cleared into the White House by the Secret Service.

It's all well and good to point out that ABC Chief Washington Correspondent George Stephanopoulos is a former Clinton White House aide who helped craft major policy initiatives like HillaryCare. And that "World News" anchor Charlie Gibson helped torpedo Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential election by asking her questions he himself could not answer and whose terms he could not define; but neither fact, while true, helps define the positions in the debate over healthcare reform.

The important thing is to be part of the debate, not whine about being excluded.

Peter Roff is a senior fellow at Frontiers of Freedom, a group promoting consumer choice throughout the marketplace.