ABC News strikes out on live coverage of Obama “fiscal cliff” remarks

President Barack Obama's "fiscal cliff" update announcement on Dec. 31, 2012 was covered by every major cable and TV news operation with the exception of ABC News.

President Barack Obama’s “fiscal cliff” update announcement on Dec. 31, 2012 was covered by every major cable and TV news operation with the exception of ABC News.

NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox?  They were all there Monday providing live coverage when President Barack Obama delivered remarks saying it looked like an agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff was “in sight.”  One exception: ABC News. The network was missing in action in covering the first tangible sign that an agreement might be hammered out between Democratic and Republican party leaders in the U.S. Senate. This has been a story that has dominated national news headlines.

“I realize,” said Mr. Obama, “that the last thing you want to hear on New Year’s Eve is another speech from me, but I do need to talk about the progress that’s being made in Congress today.” The president added that any deal is not yet complete and work continues.

President Barack Obama's "fiscal cliff" update announcement on Dec. 31, 2012 was covered by every major cable and TV news operation with the exception of ABC News.

Even Chicago super station WGN interrupted regular programming to keep viewers updated on the very real political drama. (Transcript of President Obama’s remarks)

Visibly absent: ABC News.

While every other TV and cable news operation devoted live, breaking coverage to the president’s remarks, ABC stuck with “The Chew,” a cooking show that’s part of the network’s regular daytime program schedule.

I tweeted several ABC News staffers to ask why the ntwork didn’t provide live coverage for the president’s remarks. Jonathan Karl, ABC News’ senior political correspondent tweeted this reply: “Not a lot of news … we would have taken the remarks if he was announcing a deal.”

 U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) leaves the Senate Chamber early Tuesday. Photo: New York Times

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) leaves the Senate Chamber early Tuesday. Photo: New York Times

Early Tuesday, the Senate approved a bipartisan agreement on a 89 to 8 vote. The House gave final approval Tuesday night to a bill blocking income tax hikes for about 99 percent of U.S. households, but allowed rates to rise for those with incomes above $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples.

Senate and House Republicans, in a notable move, were forced to abandon their party’s opposition to higher taxes.

So, what was happening at ABC on Monday when the other TV and cable news operations broke from regular programming to televise the president’s remarks? ABC audience members were treated to The Chew’s tour of soap star Julie Marie Berman’s (Lulu Spencer on General Hospital) home and her chicken pizza recipe. The Chew, an ABC program, was busy promoting another ABC program (General Hospital) at the time of Obama’s remarks.

ABC broadcast a segment   of The Chew featuring "General Hospital" soap opera star Julie Marie Berman's chicken pizza recipe while President Barack Obama told American's on the other TV networks that an agreement on the "fiscal cliff" budget negotiations was within sight.

ABC broadcast a segment of The Chew featuring “General Hospital” soap opera star Julie Marie Berman’s chicken pizza recipe while President Barack Obama told American’s on the other TV networks that an agreement on the “fiscal cliff” budget negotiations was within sight.

Not withstanding Karl’s reply, I wonder why ABC News stayed on the sidelines here? Who made the decision? Was ABC afraid of losing ad revenue by cutting away to Mr. Obama’s announcement? Why didn’t ABC run a crawl telling viewers they could watch the president’s remarks on the ABC News website?

If the president’s remarks on fiscal cliff developments didn’t warrant live coverage by ABC, what does? Isn’t staying on top of a major news story important enough to justify breaking in with live coverage.

Fair questions to ask. These are critical budget negotiations. They are a measure of how effectively elected members of Congress represent their constituents,,and special interests.  The negotiations also had a direct affect on the finances of all Americans. If no deal was reached, taxes would jump by $3,400 on average for American households, according to a study by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

The overall budget deal by members of Congress also impacted milk prices, unemployment benefits, and Medicare patient fees.  A political impasse, or going over the so-called “fiscal cliff” might also have re-triggered a national recession.

The Chicago Tribune put it this way:

“Unless an agreement is reached and approved by Congress by the start of New Year’s Day, more than $500 billion in 2013 tax increases will begin to take effect and $109 billion will be carved from defense and domestic programs

Though the tax hikes and budget cuts would be felt gradually, economists warn that if allowed to fully take hold, their combined impact — the so-called fiscal cliff — would rekindle a recession.”

In other words, this was a newsworthy and timely event. From the president’s remarks came important information regarding progress of the Senate negotiations that the American people should know about. A great strength of television is its ability to inform viewers about news events such as these when they take place. Many, perhaps most TV viewers depend on news operations to provide them with timely, breaking news as it’s happening, not after it’s happened.

In this case, news trumps entertainment. ABC should have covered the president’s press conference. I believe ABC let its viewers down by not providing live TV coverage of the president’s press conference.

Former President Harry Truman said “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” The implication of Truman’s words were that if you can’t cope, leave the work to someone who can.

I do wish that ABC had gotten out of “The Chew” kitchen to cover the breaking news on Monday.  If it can’t, perhaps ABC viewers will look elsewhere for a news operation that can cover breaking news live when the need arises.

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About Bernard McCoy

My views are my own and not a reflection of my employer. I'm a professor of Journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I've also been a working journalist for the past 29 years. I have covered news stories in war zones, reported on human and natural disasters, presidential conventions, a presidential inauguration and the September 11th, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. My career experiences include work as an award-winning documentary producer, television news reporter, photographer, producer, and anchor. I worked at WIBW-TV, Topeka, KS., KCTV, Kansas City, MO, WKBD-TV, Detroit, MI., WILX-TV, Lansing, MI. and WBNS-TV, Columbus, OH. I have also worked as a contributing reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, Associated Press, CBS, CNN, the Ohio News Network and lecture at the Kosovo Institute of Journalism and Communications. I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a master’s degree in telecommunications management from Michigan State University.
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