When David Westin became president of ABC News in March 1997, the division was treading water. “It looked like all the really important news was behind us,” he writes. Hardly. For the next thirteen years, Westin would preside over ABC News during some of the most important and perplexing events in its history:
President Clinton’s impeachment
The tied 2000 presidential election
The 9/11 attacks
Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan
The swift boat smear campaign against Senator John Kerry
Exit Interview is a behind-the-scenes look at Westin’s tenure and the major news that marked it. He takes us inside the chaos of the newsroom—alongside major players such as Peter Jennings, Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, and Bob Woodruff—where what looks clear and certain from the outside is often mired in conflict and urgency. Neither an apologia nor a critique, the book charts the ups and downs of fourteen formative years in network news, addressing basic questions about how our news is reported, from the point of view of someone who was there. With milestones from the recent past, Westin explores the uncertainty inherent in his job, and its central question: Is it possible for journalists to be both good at their jobs and people of good moral character?
About David Westin
David Westin was president of ABC News from March 6, 1997, to December 3, 2010. He lives in Bronxville, New York.
Westin succeeded Roone Arledge as the head of the news organization in 1997. Here he presents an insider’s view of some of the bigger stories that broke while he was in charge and defends the continuing value of broadcast news. The major stories included the death of Princess Diana, the Monica Lewinsky scandal and President Clinton’s impeachment, the breakdown of exit polling in the 2000 presidential election debacle, 9/11 and the subsequent invasion of Iraq. The author shows how he established himself within the company and also the country as the leader of the most-watched network news broadcast in America. Westin also notes that while networks favored advertiser-funded broadcasting that avoided controversy, Fox News and others “embraced controversy. The more partisan, the better. And this approach was every bit a matter of shrewd business as it was a matter of ideology.” The author’s selected stories demonstrate how the news can be covered without becoming overly polemical, and he argues against the temptation “to cut back on the reporting and seek an audience through the expression of opinion.” In that vein, he looks at Fox’s mixture of “twenty-four hour news with polemics” and its relation to conservative politics. ABC News still reaches four times as many viewers as Fox, and Westin discusses how technology and the Web are being used to defend that advantage. – Kirkus Reviews
A Network Head Reflects In ‘Interview’
NPR Book Review – July 19, 2012 (Excerpt)
On Nov. 7, 2000, producers and editors at ABC News prepared to make a very public decision.
It was election night, with George W. Bush facing off against Al Gore. And it was, memorably, undecided until the early hours of the following morning, when other TV networks began calling the election for Bush.
David Westin, then the president of ABC News, recalls the agony as his network’s elaborate election unit was beaten on the call — they had held back.
And then came more agony for Westin, after his network finally went along with everybody else, prematurely calling the election for Gore and then for Bush. “It’s still relatively painful for me, I have to tell you,” Westin tells NPR’s Steve Inskeep.
Bush did win, after a Supreme Court ruling more than 30 days later, but the reality on that night was an election too close to call. Westin writes about his network’s mistake in his new memoir, Exit Interview. It chronicles his 14 years of running ABC News — and the changes in the news business since that night in 2000.
“We had worked really hard at getting it right. We’d spent a lot of money, we’d invested a lot, we had a lot of reporters on it,” Westin says. But ultimately, he says, a combination of hubris and competitive zeal led to the election night disasters. “Take us back to 2:20 in the morning, when I’d seen that every other network had already projected for Bush, it would have been easy for me to say, ‘Let’s just sit this one out; we’re already last.’ I mean, who cares if we’re last by five minutes or 50 minutes? But I was caught up in the control room with the same competitive juices flowing that everyone else had, and it was a mistake.” [Read the full article...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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