ABC News: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

–Richard E. Vatz

Want to know which is the most conflicted network of December, 2011?

It is ABC, the network which just recently sported the childish “gotcha” analysis of a Republican Presidential debate and which just booted Christiane Amanpour, arguably the best Sunday talk show host, off the Sunday air.

At the Republican December 10, 2011 debate, Mitt Romney, you will recall, offered a $10,000 bet to Rick Perry regarding whether Romney had changed something in his book to avoid looking like he was supporting individual mandates in government health insurance – he hadn’t. But his choice of the amount to pseudo-bet, $10,000, caused a unanimous gaggle of ABC reporters to create a self-fulfilling prophecy of public revulsion at the temerity of such a bet. The amount, they breathlessly cried in unison, would offend everyone under pressure in the current economy.

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This was much ado about nothing, except that when a network hosting a debate makes much ado, it becomes something.

Check Kathleen Parker’s argument as to why it was a rhetorically well-chosen amount; no matter, ABC’s pseudo-debate analysts ensured public outcry.

On the other hand: the same ABC’s “This Week” had a spectacularly informative debate this morning, dwarfing competing talk shows: a debate hosted by Christiane Amanpour, whom even my bud Ron Smith likes, but does not find as fetching as I.

The hour-long debate on economic policy and political philosophy was between George F. Will and Paul Ryan on the conservative side and Barney Frank and Robert Reich on the other.

What a substantive clash. I may do a substantive analysis of it at a later date, but suffice it to say it was the most illuminating and educating show I have seen on a network news program, perhaps ever. Rep. Frank may have spoken a little long and interrupted a little much, but it was fascinating to see the best articulation of policy and philosophical differences facing the country, perhaps, again, in my memory.

There is nothing like an honorable debate among the best policy representatives the country has to offer. They are not the only such representatives, but tell me since William F. Buckley’s “Firing Line” went off the air when a better clash has transpired.

Prof. Vatz teaches political rhetoric as Towson University and is author of The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion (Kendall Hunt, 2012)

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