Thursday, June 18, 2009

Critics Attack ABC News for Refusing to Air Opposing Ads During Obama's Health Care Special

Opponents of President Obama's proposed health care reform are blasting ABC News for refusing to air opposing ads during a prime time special next Wednesday, just as a new study finds ABC News coverage of the president's health care plan is favorable by a ratio of 3 to 1.

The prime time special -- called "Questions for the President: Prescription for America" -- will be a nationally televised event during which Obama will answer questions presented by audience members selected by ABC News. The network has refused to accept advocacy ads during the hourlong show.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele accused ABC News and anchor Charles Gibson of making Obama's case for "nationalized" health care "without any opportunity for opposing views to be aired.

In a fundraising e-mail aimed at raising nearly $100,000 to buy air time for a counterprogram, Steele said the RNC's request to add its views to the debate during the special was "flatly rejected" by ABC News.

"What are the Democrats and their media allies afraid of? The truth?" he asked in a fundraising letter to supporters. "That is outrageous! And we will not take it!"

But ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider told that it has been a "longstanding" policy not to accept "advocacy" ads.

Schneider explained that the policy was established decades ago and only local ABC affiliates air issue ads.

"Local stations have different standards," he said, adding that ABC News refused to air Obama's infomercial the week before the presidential election in November because it did not meet the station's standards.

Since the president's inauguration in January, ABC's "World News" and "Good Morning America" have aired stories that feature Obama or supporters of his health care plan 55 times compared to 18 appearances by critics of his plan, according to a Business & Media Institute (BMI) analysis released Wednesday.

Schneider said during Wednesday's broadcast a roomful of people will present a broad range of opinions on health care and be able to ask the president questions. Viewers will also be able to submit questions via

"We're going to be producing a fair and open and honest debate about health care, which is vitally important to the country" he said. "The point of the debate is to hear from all sides."

Rick Scott, chairman of Conservatives for Patients Rights, is pushing ABC News to reconsider its ban on issue ads.

"It is unfortunate -- and unusual -- that ABC is refusing to accept paid advertising that would present an alternative viewpoint for the White House health care program," he said in a statement, noting estimates that potential legislation costs at least $1 trillion of taxpayer money.

"The American people deserve a healthy, robust debate on this issue and ABC's decision -- as of now -- to exclude even paid advertisements that present an alternative view does a disservice to the public."

Some conservative bloggers are calling for people to boycott advertisers on ABC.

"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, one blogger wrote.

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