June 23, 2009
The Honorable Lamar S. Smith
Chairman, Media Fairness Caucus
Congress of the United States
2409 Russell House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Congressman Smith:
Thank you for your letter of today’s date concerning our planned coverage tomorrow of health care reform in America. I am pleased that you agree that the subject deserves extensive and careful coverage. This is precisely what ABC News has given healthcare over many years; it is what we plan to continue tomorrow.
Unfortunately, you have found it appropriate to criticize a program that has not yet aired. Contrary to your assertions, this will not be “slanted” in any way – much less a “day-long infomercial” or “in-kind free advertising” as you allege. It will be a thoughtful, respectful, and probing discussion of some of the issues raised by the calls for health-care reform. We will include a variety of perspectives coming from private individuals asking the President questions and taking issue with him, as they see fit. We have heard already at some length (on ABC News and other outlets) from politicians and professional health care lobbyists, and there will be ample time to hear from them throughout the policy debate. I can see no reason why we should not hear tomorrow instead from some of the Americans most directly affected by the plans being discussed.
Sadly, some inside government and within the private sector see every issue as material for a sort of political high theatre, to be used to gain votes or energize political bases or simply to raise funds. I would have thought that a subject as important as the health care received by the American people would rise above this sorry spectacle. Our citizens need and deserve more. We are proud to be making a serious effort to go beyond mere punditry or stylized, bipolar debate; we are proud to work for a network and a company willing to devote valuable airtime to serious consideration of a subject so worthy.
Finally, on a note of personal privilege, I entirely reject your attack on my colleague, Dr. Timothy Johnson. Dr. Johnson has established himself over many years as the foremost medical editor in television news. His knowledge about health care reform is surpassed only by his commitment to the truth and to fairness.
As for Linda Douglass, she did indeed cover Congress for ABC News. But she left us nearly four years ago to become a fellow at New York University and to work at the Rockefeller Foundation.
I do appreciate your taking the time to express your views, which I will always welcome.