Published June 16, 2009
ABC News will host an hour-long special on health care reform in the U.S. next Wednesday from the White House East Room -- a move that ABC is defending but critics are calling a surrender to the Obama administration's effort to control the debate.
The prime time special -- called "Questions for the President: Prescription for America" by ABC News -- will be a nationally televised event during which President Obama will answer questions presented by audience members selected by ABC News.
Participants will present a broad range of "divergent opinions in this historic debate," according to the press release announcing the event. Viewers will also be able to submit questions via ABCNews.com.
But critics of Obama's health care reform are asking that they be allowed to voice their side of the national debate.
"In the absence of opposition, I am concerned this event will become a glorified infomercial to promote the Democrat agenda. If that is the case, this prime time 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," Ken McKay, Chief of Staff for the Republican National Committee, wrote in a letter to ABC News President David Westin.
"The president has stated time and time again that he wants a bipartisan debate. Therefore, the Republican Party should be included in this prime time event," McKay wrote.
ABC News Senior Vice President Kerry Smith returned volley to McKay in her own letter released Tuesday. She said any viewer who watches will be sure to find the network's coverage is "informative, fair and civil."
"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," Smith wrote.
Rich Noyes, research director at the Media Research Center, said the amount of time being dedicated exclusively to Obama's platform presents a problem for those claiming fairness.
"Will the opponents of President Obama's health care plan get an equal shot at the debate on the airwaves? This is an awful lot of time that ABC is giving over to one side of the debate," Noyes said. "This is an issue of such importance, the public really requires a balanced debate."
The Internet is being to heat up with some conservative bloggers calling for people to boycott advertisers on ABC. One blogger wrote that "all Americans who are opposed to a major media arm becoming a visible branch of the presidential political machine" should use the marketplace to voice their objection.
But Jane Hall, a journalism professor at American University and FOX News contributor, said the special isn't removing opposing voices from the debate.
"This is not unprecedented. 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."
She added that it's in ABC News' interest to present a range of opinions.
"ABC News is going to have a balanced program, they do not want to be criticized, they don't want to look like they're simply cheerleading for the president and his plan."