ABC News is being slammed by some critics for a poorly produced interview with former FBI Director James Comey that aired on Sunday night after a massive editing job.
Comey raised eyebrows when he chose ABC for his first interview since President Trump abruptly fired him in May 2017. He is going to be a familiar face to media watchdogs as a variety of appearances are lined up in the coming days as Comey promotes his tell-all book, “A Higher Loyalty.”
Authors of major news-making books usually appear first on "60 Minutes" and Comey's choice of ABC News -- perhaps so he could get friendly questions from Clinton crony George Stephanopoulos -- was unusual. In fact, Comey’s ABC special attracted roughly 9.8 million viewers compared to 22 million who tuned into a recent “60 Minutes” interview with adult film actress Stormy Daniels, as The Hill noted.
Comey’s interview was produced by the beleaguered “20/20” news magazine, which in recent years has almost entirely stopped doing hard news and instead largely focuses on mysterious murders, infidelity and even behind-the-scenes looks at other ABC programs, such as “Roseanne.”
The ABC News producers cutting the Comey special may have been exercising muscles they hadn't used in many years, as the network had to edit down a reported five-hour interview between Comey and Stephanopoulos into a one-hour special. This was the first big primetime exclusive that troubled ABC News has landed since Caitlyn Jenner’s 2015 sit-down with Diane Sawyer.
The interview clearly was a tall order for Stephanopulos -- and not just because he is roughly a foot shorter than Comey. The network chose not to air several key moments, such as when Comey ripped former President Barack Obama. He criticized the former president for comments made during the bureau’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, suggesting Obama “jeopardized” the Justice Department’s “credibility.” However, viewers would need to access the entire transcript online to know Comey’s comments on Obama.
New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman said Comey’s interview ended up being a “much lower grade burn” than she originally thought it would be based on anticipation, according to the Washington Examiner.
Filmmaker Liz Garbus tweeted, “This is very distracting and makes it hard to feel like we're getting the full context of his answers.” New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen added, “This interview is VERY aggressively edited. Almost every sentence is ended by the ABC producers, not by Comey.”
CNN analyst and author Bill Carter said it was hard to be precise about the intent of his words because ABC edited the TV version “like a traveler trying to sit on an overfull suitcase” that felt rushed.
New York magazine star Olivia Nuzzi echoed what a lot of viewers were presumably thinking with a tweet about the significant height difference between the two men. “This interview is difficult for me to watch because James Comey is six foot eight and George Stephanopulos is ‘five foot seven’ (lol k) and I keep imagining what it would be like if Stephanopoulos conducted the interview while sitting on Comey's lap like he's Santa,” Nuzzi wrote.
Media insiders weren't the only people who had an issue with ABC’s production, as many other viewers took to Twitter to complain about the editing.
Mediaite columnist Joseph Wulfsohn said he was disappointed with the finished product, much like he was when “60 Minutes” aired its anticipated interview with Daniels.
“So let us retire our obsession we have with these not-so explosive interviews. As the saying goes, fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us,” Wulfsohn wrote.