“Health care reform is not a Democratic party issue and it’s not a Republican party issue,” said Robin Sproul. “There are so many diverse points of view within each party.”
Ms. Sproul, the D.C. Bureau Chief for ABC News, was on the phone, speaking with The Observer about ABC News’ upcoming prime-time, town-hall special about health care reform. The event, which will air at 10 p.m. on Wednesday night, will feature Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer interviewing President Barack Obama in front of a live audience armed with opinions and microphones.
“These days, candidates do a lot of similar events on the campaign trail,” said Ms. Sproul. “But then you have an audience put together by a campaign, which is a different thing than if it’s put together by a news program.”
“We’re choosing the audience,” she added. “That was understood from the beginning, and we never had a second conversation about it.”
Ms. Sproul said that the audience would consist of roughly 130 individuals, hand-selected by a team of ABC News staffers. “What we are trying to do within that audience is to represent as many diverse points of view as you can,” said Ms. Sproul. “Everything from doctors, hospitals, insurance people, pharmaceutical people, small business people, patients groups, citizens. Would that we had six hours to voice all their opinions.”
Not long after ABC News announced the special, Ken McKay, the chief of staff for the Republican National Committee, wrote a letter to ABC News President David Westin, accusing his news organization of excluding opposition voices from the event. “In the absence of opposition,” wrote Mr. McKay. “I am concerned this event will become a glorified infomercial to promote the Democrat agenda.”
The note soon ended up prominently displayed on the Drudge Report, touching off several days of criticism from conservatives who accused ABC News of playing patty-cake with the President.
On Tuesday, a clutch of Republican Congressmen, members of a newfangled group dubbed the “Media Fairness Caucus,” sent another letter of complaint to Mr. Westin. “It’s as if ABC News is providing in-kind free advertising for President Obama,” they wrote.
Mr. Westin promptly responded.
For her part, Ms. Sproul shrugged off the criticism. “I like to see the interest,” she said, when asked about the subsequent torrent of media attention. “You never love getting this many letters in advance, where it looks like people are complaining. But I think the fact that people know we’re doing it and it’s generating a lot of talk–that’s good. Bring it on. It just shows how important the topic is and how hard it’s going to be to solve.”