It appears that Matt Drudge might be responsible for forcing executives at ABC News to let their reporters do their jobs. If the facts are what they appear to be, the empty suits at the network don’t understand the news media’s role.
Late Wednesday afternoon, the Drudge Report flashed a report that ABC News had an explosive interview with Newt Gingrich’s second wife, but that network executives were debating the “ethics” of running the story before the South Carolina primary:
“NEWT EX UNLOADS ON CAMERA; NET DEBATES ‘ETHICS’ OF AIRING BEFORE PRIMARY: Marianne Gingrich has said she could end her ex-husband’s career with a single interview. Earlier this week, she sat before ABC NEWS cameras, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned… MORE… Developing…”
Drudge reported that Marianne Gingrich had sat for a two-hour interview with ABC reporter Brian Ross and that her revelations about her ex-husband were explosive. But Drudge also reported that network executives didn’t want to air the interview until after the South Carolina primary:
“ABC NEWS suits determined it would be ‘unethical’ to run the Marianne Gingrich interview so close to the South Carolina Primary, a curious decision, one insider argued, since the network has aggressively been reporting on other candidates.”
What I’d like to know is when it became “unethical” for a news organization to do its job of disseminating relevant information to the public as quickly as possible.
Lost in the debate is any real discussion of why anyone might consider it unethical to air the interview this week. The only conceivable reason is that someone could claim the network is “out to get Gingrich,” but if a network executive is so wimpy as to worry about that claim, he’s in the wrong business. He needs to get some thicker skin and learn that it’s his organization’s job to get the news to people and let them decide what to do with it.
I haven’t made any secret of the fact that I have a lot of disdain for Gingrich, but that has nothing to do with this issue. This is purely about a news organization doing its mission. The job is to supply relevant information — as fairly as possible — not to withhold information out of fear that the subject of an investigation won’t like the information and complain about it.
The Gingrich campaign has responded to the charges with a statement in the name of the candidate’s daughters. It vaguely tries to lay the groundwork for a later denial of whatever Marianne Gingrich actually said in that interview. In part, the campaign’s statement said:
“The failure of a marriage is a terrible and emotional experience for everyone involved. Anyone who has had that experience understands it is a personal tragedy filled with regrets, and sometimes differing memories of events. We will not say anything negative about our father’s ex-wife. He has said before, privately and publicly, that he regrets any pain he may have caused in the past to people he loves.”
If Marianne Gingrich has relevant things to say about her ex-husband, the time for ABC News to air those charges is now — as soon as possible — before anybody else has voted. It’s not up to the company to play games with information, treating the public like children. The time to air the information is now, not after the next primary.
One of my favorite news mottos is one that the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain has used since 1922: “Give light and the people will find their own way.” I’m old fashioned enough to believe that’s the job of the news media — to give light and hope the public can make use of it. I’m cynical enough about the voting public to believe it won’t always work that way, but if a news organization isn’t providing the light — as quickly and as honestly as possible — there’s no chance that anyone will be able to make use of that light.
I feel pretty confident that the journalists at ABC feel the same way about this that I do. I could be wrong, of course, but I figure it was the business executives, not the journalists, who fumbled this decision. I also suspect it was one of the ABC journalists who leaked the story to Drudge, knowing that it would create pressure on his bosses to run the story.
The pressure worked. ABC now plans to air the story Thursday night and to release parts of the interview earlier in the day — before a Thursday night debate. Airing the story then — instead of waiting until next Monday after voting — is the responsible decision. It’s just sad that it took a leak to an muckraker to get the empty suits at ABC News to do the right thing.
Update: ABC News has released portions of the interview with Marianne Gingrich.