ABC News prez: Too early to connect Giffords shooting to rhetoric in media
"Does the media create -- or did it have anything to do with - what happened in Tucson Saturday morning?" The Reporters Who Cover Television wanted Ben Sherwood to tell them at Winter TV Press Tour 2011 -- his first press tour appearance as new president of ABC News.
Sherwood, who comes from the Q&A as Deposition school of press-tour appearances, said, after a pause - a really long pause by Press Tour standards - maybe the longest pause in Press Tour history - that "it's a really complex question that has already been grabbed a hold of by cable television."
"I think there are a bunch of different dots in this story" Sherwood hazarded. The dots are "way too early to connect."
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is being treated at a Tuscon hospital following an attack Saturday outside a Tucson supermarket that left six people dead and 14, including Giffords, wounded after a guy opened fire on Giffords as she was greeting people at the market.
In the hours and days that followed, there has been much attention paid to whether aggressive, gun-motif rhetoric by politicians and news on-air talent had in some way set the stage for the tragedy.
On the International Space Station, Giffords's brother-in-law, astronaut Scott Kelly, while leading NASA in a moment of silence Monday, said of the shooting, "These days, we are constantly reminded of the unspeakable acts of violence and damage we can inflict upon one another, not just with our actions, but also with our irresponsible words. . . . We're better than this. We must do better."
Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, in a hotel in Pasadena, the head of ABC News would only commit to saying, "The facts are: we know this guy...did this in a supermarket parking lot. We don't know a lot about why he did it... To leap next, to media's role, is a giant leap and I think it's premature to make that leap."
At this point, about a million viewers would have flipped to whatever "CSI" edition was airing on CBS, were Sherwood being interviewed on his own network.
"How does a major national news organization report somebody's dead when they're not," one critic asked Sherwood, trying to raise a pulse in the Q&A. In the confusion as the story broke Saturday, rivals CBS, NBC, CNN and Fox News Channel reported Giffords had died of her wounds - a report that appears to have originated with National Public Radio, according to the Associated press. ABC News had the inaccurate story and banner headline on its Web site, citing other news sources, for about 10 minutes, but did not broadcast the report on-air.
Sherwood paused again, breaking his previous record, then began to talk about how watching ABC News's "Good Morning America' Sunday morning, and listening as a close friend of Giffords's family described what they went through when the inaccurate news got reported.
Sherwood said he was "proud" that ABC broadcast got it right and vowed to work to make sure all of ABC News' platforms speak with "one voice united."
"It really hit me in the heart when I listened to what the family went through...and reminded me that we have to get it right," said Sherwood, who was named head of ABC News in December.
It is never difficult to distinguish between a room full of reporters who are not getting zippy answers to their questions during a news conference and a ray of sunshine. One frustrated reporter asked Sherwood if he would please try and "step away from who is to blame for Tucson" and maybe comment on whether, as a "news junkie," he thought there was "too much anger in some reports or talk shows" on TV these days.
Sherwood paused again - slightly shorter than before -- then answered that, "as a person who mainlines news" - he pointed to a vein in his arm - "I think it's something too soon for me to talk about in this role. Maybe some day later I will have views from this perch at ABC News, but I don't think it's the time to go there."
ABC News's Sunday Beltway show needs to be tailored to become "the right show for Christiane [Amanpour] to showcase her strengths," Sherwood said of the program that's faltered in the ratings since George Stephanopoulos left to co-anchor "GMA" and Amanpour was recruited from CNN to take the gig.
"My vision for her is to be much more visible to her audience as a player for ABC News," he added.
When the interview finally ended, the reporters, who had been wilting like salted snails all during Sherwood's news conference, shuffled out to the foyer to drown themselves in hot chocolate at Disney's "Winter Wipeout" Cocoa Klatch, with Ballsy, who is the protagonist in the highly dramatic "Big Balls" scenes of ABC's weekly series about man's inhumanity to man, "Wipeout."
Lisa de Moraes
| January 10, 2011; 4:20 PM ET
Categories: Winter TV Press Tour 2011
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