Politics & Media
Jan 26, 2009, 06:24AM

ABC News' Power Plays

The network scored the first exclusive interview with President Obama, perhaps because it bankrolled the Inaugural Ball—but hey, this is the big leagues, right?

It hasn’t yet been a week since President Obama’s inauguration, but in that short time ABC News has been raising the hackles of their fellow political journalists. First, they scored the first post-inauguration interview with the President after shelling out $2 million to sponsor the Neighborhood Ball. This made Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’ first round with journalists less than genial:

Bill Plante, CBS News: How is it transparent when it looks like pay to play when the president gives his only interview on inauguration night to a network that's paid $2 million for the privilege of exclusive coverage of an event... the Neighborhood Ball?

Gibbs gave Plante a decent reply, without even loosening his tie or making any cracks about Venus flytraps:

Gibbs: No interview is decided on by me or anybody else who works for the president based on who might sponsor an activity.

Not a bad non-answer for his first day, and ABC got off scot-free.

On Friday, Michael Calderone of The Politico reported that Gov. Rod Blagojevich will appear this morning on Good Morning America and The View with wife in tow, his first television interview since scandal hit him in November. Blago is hustling (to an exceptional degree: He jumped the gun on his ABC exclusive and decided to appear everywhere), but it seems like ABC might be, too. For a long time they’ve generally trailed NBC and CBS news coverage in ratings, but the network must be encouraged by three things:

1) GMA beat out NBC’s Today for a Daytime Emmy in 2008

2) This Week with George Stephanopoulos has cut the total viewing gap with Meet the Press by 50% in the last year.

3) Their exclusive coverage of the Neighborhood Ball last Tuesday (including that Obama interview) put them in second for overall ratings, right behind American Idol.

Is this reflective of better quality journalism? Doubtful, but it’s too soon to tell. The exclusive two-minute, $2 million interview is pretty inconsequential; GMA is no fluffier than the other network morning shows; and Stephanopoulos may be benefitting from the extended regime change at Meet the Press from the late Tim Russert to David Gregory. Regardless, ABC News’ star is waxing in the early days of the new administration, not by luck but by a seemingly concerted effort. Is ABC News shaking things up the network TV equivalent of The Washington Post scooping The New York Timestraditional pre-Inauguration presidential interview? Maybe. But two things are certain: the great tectonic plates of mainstream media are shifting this year, and watching big-time journalists get huffy with each other is surefire entertainment.


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