Obama Buys The News, by Matt Patterson

Is ABC News a legitimate news organization?  Not, apparently, by the standards of the Obama administration.

Speaking of Fox News, White House Communications Director Anita Dunn told The New York Times, “We’re going to treat them [Fox] the way we would treat an opponent…  As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.”1   If that wasn’t clear enough, White House senior advisor David Axlerod told This Week’s George Stephanopoulos that Fox is “not really a news station, if you watch — even — it’s not just their commentators, but a lot of their news programming, it’s really not news.  It’s pushing a point of view.”2 

The President himself even contributed to this full court press against Fox:  “What our advisers have simply said is that we are going to take media as it comes,” Obama told NBC News.  “And if media is operating, basically, as a talk radio format, then that’s one thing.  And if it’s operating as a news outlet, then that’s another.”3

Presumably, the President means by this denigration of “talk radio” that it pushes a point of view, is opinionated, takes sides in the political debate, etc.  As opposed to ABC News?

On June 24, ABC devoted a full hour of valuable prime-time real estate to Barack Obama for a Primetime (a production of ABC News) health care forum titled “Questions for the President: Prescription for America,”4 hosted by ABC World News host Charles Gibson and Good Morning America co-host Diane Sawyer.5   But ABC News wasn’t done making itself a platform for the President’s agenda; later that same night, Obama continued his pitch for his health care reform package on Nightline.6

Meanwhile, despite assurances from ABC News Senior Vice President Kerry Smith that “ABC News is looking for the most thoughtful and diverse voices on this issue,”7 the chance to buy ads advocating the other side of the debate was denied to Conservatives for Patients’ Rights (CPR).  Rick Scott, chairman of CPR, said, “Our organization is more than willing to purchase ad time on ABC to present an alternative viewpoint and our hope is that ABC will reconsider having such viewpoints be part of this crucial debate for the American people.  We were surprised to hear that paid advertisements would not be accepted when we inquired and we would certainly be open to purchasing time if ABC would reconsider.”8 

ABC’s explanation for shutting out the conservative group?  Spokeswoman Cathie Levine said it is the “long-standing policy” of ABC that it “does not accept advocacy ads.”9

Maybe.  But how about ads from companies that support the President’s agenda?

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) is one of the largest lobbying and trade organizations of drug manufacturers in the United States.10  Billy Tauzin, president and CEO of PhRMA,11 has claimed that earlier this year he made a sweet deal with the White House on behalf of his drug companies:12 In return for “political and financial support for the President’s health care initiative,”13 the President “wouldn’t try to overturn the very Medicare drug policy that Obama had criticized on the campaign trail,”14 according to the Los Angeles Times.  Tauzin is not coy about this deal: “The White House blessed it,” he said emphatically.15 

According to the New York Times, “The industry had reached an agreement with the White House in June to contribute $80 billion over 10 years to the cost of the health care overhaul but cap its share of the costs at that level.”16  Though the administration has played coy on some specifics of this arrangement,17 there is no doubt that Obama benefited enormously from bringing the drug makers onboard:  “Since striking the deal,” says the New York Times, “the drug industry lobbyists had become a vital and thus powerful White House ally, even helping to bankroll a million-dollar advertising campaign in support of the health care overhaul.”18

So PhRMA, bought and paid for by the Obama administration, toes the White House line on health care reform.   And who has been one of the largest recent advertisers on ABC News?  You guessed it.  PhRMA and its members.

On June 24, the same night as the Obama/ABC News prime time presentation, ABC World News featured 12 commercials, spread out over three advertising blocks during the half hour broadcast.  Of those 12 commercials, 5 were from companies listed as PhRMA members on the organization’s website;19 Bayer, Johnson & Johnson (two commercials), GlaxoSmithKline, and Novartis.  Indeed, starting on June 24 and going through the end of the month, 47 of 82 commercials, or 57.3 percent, were PhRMA company ads.

That is not all.  David Almasi, executive director of the National Center For Public Policy Research, kept a log of commercials aired during the ABC World News broadcast from June 24th to October 12, a period of approximately three-and-a-half months following ABC’s rejection of health care-related ads from Conservatives for Patients’ Rights.20   The results are as follows:

In July, 173 of 326 commercials, or 53 percent, were PhRMA company advertisements.  In August, 176 of 321 commercials, or 54.8 percent, were PhRMA.  In September, 156 of 293, or 53.24 percent, were PhRMA commercials.  Of the eight days in October analyzed, 45 out of 80 commercials, or 56.25 percent, were PhRMA company ads.

The grand total?  In the 98 days of ABC World News programming analyzed from June to October, the broadcast featured 1,102 commercials, 597 of which were PhRMA member company advertisements, representing 54.17 percent of total commercials aired. 

Notes Almasi, “Ad after ad on World News came from members of the drug lobby group PhRMA.  It’s almost laughable how many ads they run each day.  If they were to stop, it would seem doubtful the broadcasts could continue.”

The data, representing months of recording and logging of ABC World News commercials viewed in the Washington D.C. market, reveal an astonishing double layer of hypocrisy.  ABC News, in spite of its morally superior affectations against “advocacy ads,” is perfectly willing to turn over large chunks of its news programming to a politician – if that politician is backed by companies representing more than half its advertisements.

And for the President, it seems it’s OK for a news organization to support a point of view – so long as that point of view is his own.

Matt Patterson is a policy analyst for The National Center For Public Policy Research and a National Review Institute Washington Fellow. 


1 Brian Stelter, “Fox’s Volley With Obama Intensifying,” The New York Times, October 11, 2009, downloaded from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/12/business/media/12fox.html on October 22, 2009.

2 “Transcript: Axelrod,” ABC News This Week, October 18, 2009. Downloaded from http://abcnews.go.com/ThisWeek/Politics/transcript-axelrod/story?id=8846323 on October 22, 2009.

3 Jim Rutenberg, “Behind the War Between White House and Fox,” The New York Times, October 22, 2009, downloaded from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/23/us/politics/23fox.html on October 23, 2009.

4 Transcript: “Questions for the President: Prescription for America,” ABC News, June 24, 2009, downloaded from http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/HealthCare/story?id=7920012&page=1&page=1 on October 23, 2009.

5 Jeff Poor, “ABC ObamaCare Special Turns Into Presidential Filibuster,” The Business and Media Institute, June 25, 2009, downloaded from http://www.businessandmedia.org/articles/2009/20090625043708.aspx on October 23, 2009.

6 Ibid.

7 Kerry Smith, “ABC News Responds to RNC Letter,” June 16, 2009, downloaded from http://blogs.abcnews.com/pressroom/2009/06/abc-news-responds-to-rnc-letter-.html on October 23, 2009.

8 “Conservatives Hit ABC News for ‘Obamamercial’,” U.S. News & World Report, June 17, 2009, downloaded from http://www.usnews.com/articles/news/washington-whispers/2009/06/17/conservatives-hit-abc-news-for-obamamercial.html on October 23, 2009.

9 “GOP Chief: ABC In The Tank For Obama,” USA Today, June 18, 2009, downloaded from http://content.usatoday.com/communities/theoval/post/2009/06/68243837/1 on October 23, 2009.

10 “About PhRMA,” phrma.org, downloaded from http://www.phrma.org/about_phrma/ on October 28, 2009.

11 “About Billy,” phrma.org, downloaded from http://www.phrma.org/about_billy/ on October 23, 2009.

12 Timothy Noah, “Obama’s Biggest Health Reform Blunder,” Slate, August 6, 2009, downloaded from http://www.slate.com/id/2224621/ on October 28, 2009.

13 Tom Hamburger, “Obama Gives Powerful Drug Lobby A Seat At The Health Care Table,” The L.A. Times, August 4, 2009, downloaded from http://www.latimes.com/features/health/la-na-healthcare-pharma4-2009aug04,0,4078424,full.story on October 23, 2009.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid.

16 David Kirkpatrick, “Obama Reverses Stand on Drug Industry Deal,” The New York Times, August 8, 2009, downloaded from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/08/us/08lobby.html on October 29, 2009.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid.

19 “Member Company List,” phrma.org, downloaded from http://www.phrma.org/about_phrma/member_company_list/members/ on October 23, 2009.

20 Excepting the following dates, for which data is missing or not applicable – July 20, July 23, July 25, August 23, August 25, September 5, September 12, September 19, September 26, October 3, October 5, October 10, October 11.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.