At a lively session at the Television Critics Association press tour this morning, ABC News President Ben Sherwood pushed back against charges that his network was airing more soft news, explained Christiane Amanpour’s departure from The Week, and drew distinctions between his programming and that of NBC News.
“I reject completely these distinctions and these labels, totally,” he said when asked whether the perception that ABC focusing on soft news, like interviewing kidnapping victim Jaycee Dugard, at the expense of reporting. “We believe our guiding philosophy is relevance…we believe that our mission as you saw is to give people the whole picture so they can change their futures…we have had exclusive interviews with Mubarak and Assad..our anchor Diane Sawyer was the only evening news anchor to go to Japan to cover the Biblical disaster here…We will cede no ground on investigative journalism, on hard-hitting news.” But he also suggested that it was no longer the role of news anchors to act as “priests of news [who] presented at the end of the day one menu of news that they had decided was the most important in the order of importance,” saying it was much more critical to look to the audience’s needs. He cited aggressive coverage of Bank of America’s proposed $5 debit card fee as the kind of story that was responsive to the economic concerns of viewers. And he argued that Christiane Amanpour’s interviews and coverage of the Arab Spring were proof that Nightline was not a lifestyle program.
Speaking of Amanpour, who had her last day on The Week yesterday, Sherwood said that the move was part a product of a desire to focus on American politics in an election year, recasting the charge that Amanpour couldn’t deliver domestic nes as a strength: “We thought her tremendous strengths, her world-beating strengths, are best deployed in her area of strength and also her personal passion.” He insisted that despite the decision to move Amanpour away from The Week, 2011 was “probably one of the greatest years of her career this year. If you look at her domination in terms of big interviews all across the Arab Spring, just an incredible year.” And Sherwood said the move would allow Amanpour to work with CNN in a “unique arrangement.”
And Sherwood set his sites on NBC. In response to one question about whether NBC was trying to imitate George Stephanopoulos by hiring the daughters of former presidents like Chelsea Clinton, saying Stephanopoulos “is a first-rate journalist. And he has, over the last 15 years, developed an incredible set of skills. He’s developed a whole new set of skills in the morning…I think that is an unfair question.” More substantively, Sherwood praised Good Morning America for cutting the Today Show’s lead by “30 to 40 percent.” He acknowledged that “the Today show is very mighty, and they’ve been very mighty for a very long time,” but said of Good Morning America that “It’s dynamic, it’s incredibly watchable, it’s surprising, it’s really fun.” Earlier in the week, NBC’s Bob Greenblatt said that he hoped and expected that Matt Lauer would remain on Today, so it’ll be fascinating to see that rivalry heat up in the year to come.