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ABC was a participant or observer in the following events:
The day after President Bush’s presidential election victory over Senator John Kerry (D-MA), an Associated Press exit poll indicates that 22 percent of voters made their choice because of “moral values”—a higher ranked criterion than the Iraq war, the threat of terrorism, or the economy. The mainstream media seizes on the poll as an indication of a new focus on morality among American voters. “It really is Michael Moore versus Mel Gibson,” says former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, comparing the liberal documentary maker to the actor who has wooed conservatives with his recent film, The Passion of the Christ. News analysts say that singer Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction,” where she showed her right breast for a moment during the February 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, was “the socio-political event of the past year.” Bush campaign manager and White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove says, “I think it’s people who are concerned about the coarseness of our culture, about what they see on the television sets, what they see in the movies.” Conservative columnist Robert Novak uses the poll to claim that “the anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, socially conservative agenda is transcendant.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will note that the interpretation of the poll is transparently false. First, he will point out, if one adds together the 19 percent who chose terrorism and the 15 percent who chose Iraq as the issues that most drove their vote, then it is “clear that national security was of greater concern to Americans than ‘moral values.’” Moreover, the poll itself is suspect: the category of “moral values” is so general as to mean anything from, as Rich will write, “abortion to aiding the poor to being nice to your mother.” According to a Pew Research Center analysis, the over-generalized category of “moral values” is an easy way for voters to choose “none of the above” instead of choosing a specific issue as their single motivator. According to Rich, Pew will find that “when voters were given no menu of suggestions to choose from, Iraq, the economy, and terrorism led by far, and issues that might be labeled as ‘values’ polled in the low single digits.” Worse for the conservative “moral values” argument, 60 percent of those polled actually favored either same-sex marriage or civil unions, and 55 percent support abortion in one form or another. ABC News polling director Greg Langer later notes that the erroneous “moral values” claim “created a deep distortion—one that threatens to misinform the political discourse for years to come.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 150-151] One effect of the new “moral values” perception is the decision by 66 ABC affiliates not to air the World War II film Saving Private Ryan over Memorial Day over fears that the profanity and violence portrayed in the film might result in fines from the Federal Communications Commission (see November 11, 2004).
Studio poster for ‘Saving Private Ryan.’ [Source: Little Golden Guy (.com)]Sixty-six of ABC’s 225 affiliated stations choose not to air the World War II film Saving Private Ryan on Veterans Day. ABC aired the film, widely considered a homage to American soldiers, on Veterans Day in 2001 and 2002 without complaint. But with new concerns that the Bush administration, and the American electorate, is energized by a passion for “moral values” (see November 3, 2004), the stations’ executives believe they may risk fines from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The film opens with a graphic depiction of the famous D-Day invasion of Normandy by US, British, and Canadian forces, and the entire film contains a significant amount of profanity. The FCC could impose fines of up to $32,500 on a station if it finds the film violates moral and ethical standards. The FCC says it has received complaints, but has not yet decided to mount any sort of investigation. Many stations choosing not to air the film say that if their viewers are angry at the decision, they should call the FCC themselves. ABC spokeswoman Susan Sewell says the “overwhelming majority” of viewers are comfortable with their decision to broadcast the film. Some of the stations choosing not to air the film point to a recent FCC decision to fine CBS stations up to $500,000 for airing a Super Bowl halftime show in which entertainer Janet Jackson exposed her right breast for a moment. ABC’s contract with DreamWorks, the film studio who produced Saving Private Ryan, does not allow the network or its stations to edit the film. ABC shows an introduction by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a prisoner of war during Vietnam. Jack Valenti, the former head of the Motion Pictures Association of America, says that he cannot imagine the FCC fining any station for showing the film: “I think that this planet would collide with Saturn before that happens.” [Associated Press, 11/12/2004; BBC, 11/13/2004] In 2006, author and media critic Frank Rich will write that “merely the fear of reprisals was enough to push television stations… onto the slippery slope of self-censorship before anyone in Washington even bothered to act.” Rich asks if such self-censorship might extend into these stations’, and networks’, coverage of the Iraq war: “If these media outlets were afraid to show a graphic Hollywood treatment of a 60-year old war starring the beloved Tom Hanks because the feds might fine them, toy with their licenses, or deny them regulatory permission to expand their empires, might they curry favor with Washington by softening their news divisions’ efforts to present the ugly facts of an ongoing war? The pressure groups that were incensed by both Saving Private Ryan and risque programming were often the same ones who campaigned against any news organization that was not toeing the administration political line in lockstep with Fox [News].” [Rich, 2006, pp. 153-154]
ABC hires John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who gave the network an exclusive interview about waterboarding in late 2007 (see December 10, 2007), as a paid consultant. ABC journalist Brian Ross will say that network officials were concerned about the appearance of a tie between the interview and the job. For that reason, “I felt that we should sort of wait,” he will say. “I didn’t want anyone to think that he was promised something for the interview. He was not.” Kiriakou remains with ABC for eight months, before leaving for the Council on Foreign Relations. Shortly after his departure, the press learns that one of the key claims he made in the interview was false (see April 28, 2009). [New York Times, 4/28/2009]
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