Democrat Leader Is ‘Sure’ ABC News Will Cover GOP’s Comments on Obama’s Primetime Townhall

By Marie Magleby | June 16, 2009 | 3:48 PM EDT

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)

( – House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told Tuesday that he was not aware of ABC’s refusal to give Republicans an opportunity to voice their views when the network airs a special edition of “Primetime” from the White House on June 24. The program will give President  Barack Obama a platform to discuss his health-care reform plan.
Hoyer said he’s “sure,” however, that the network will cover GOP lawmakers' comments on the health-care forum, even though ABC has so far refused to allow Republicans to participate in the event--a fact that has drawn the ire of the Republican National Committee.
“If Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell or others want to comment, I’m sure ABC would cover them,” Hoyer said.
The network announced Monday that during its special next Wednesday, Obama will answer questions “from an audience made up of Americans selected by ABC News who have divergent opinions in this historic debate.”
Republican National Committee Chief of Staff Ken McKay wrote a letter to ABC News Monday evening expressing concern about the one-sided nature of the program and requesting that ABC News give Republicans a voice in it, too.  The text of McKay’s letter was prominently posted in a report at the top of the Drudge Report on Tuesday.
“Today, the Republican National Committee requested an opportunity to add our Party’s views to those of the President’s to ensure that all sides of the health care reform debate are presented,” McKay wrote. “Our request was rejected.” raised the issue at Hoyer's Tuesday press briefing, asking him if it was wrong for ABC News to exclude Republican representatives from the forum.
Hoyer initially said he was “not familiar” with the issue and noted that “ABC did very substantial coverage with the president and the First Family."
When told that the forum was about President Obama’s health care plan, Hoyer said: “This is not the DNC (Democratic National Committee). This is the president of the United States elected by all American people to be a leader of our nation. ABC is covering the president in his capacity as president and as a principal player in policy making in our nation."
“I will refrain from personal references, I suppose, of the RNC’s leadership,” said Hoyer. But you know, if (House Minority Leader) Mr. [John] Boehner (R-Ohio) and (Senate Minority Leader) Mr. [Mitch] McConnell or others want to comment, I’m sure ABC would cover them.
“So I don’t want to make a comment on their covering the president on his position on health care,” said Hoyer. “As you know, he had a health care forum which was a bipartisan forum in the White House with, as a matter of fact, Sen. [Charles] Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. [Mitch] McConnell (R.-Ky.) and other Republicans making comments that were covered by the press.”
The RNC letter came after ABC News posted on its Web site the following: “President Obama’s health care push will continue next week with a primetime event at the White House, with ABC’s Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer set to moderate a nationally televised event called ‘Questions for the President: Prescription for America.’”
The RNC letter requested that ABC refrain from airing “a glorified infomercial to promote the Democrat agenda.”
“I believe that the president should have the ability to speak directly to the (American) people. However, I find it outrageous that ABC would prohibit our Party’s opposing thoughts and ideas from this national debate, which affects millions of ABC viewers,” the RNC’s McKay wrote.
“In the absence of opposition, I am concerned this event will become a glorified infomercial to promote the Democrat agenda. If that is the case, this primetime infomercial should be paid for out of the DNC coffers. President Obama does not hold a monopoly on health care reform ideas or on free airtime. The President has stated time and time again that he wants a bipartisan debate. Therefore, the Republican Party should be included in this primetime event, or the DNC should pay for your airtime,” the letter concluded.
ABC News senior vice president Kerry Smith responded to the GOP letter Tuesday. He wrote: “ABC News prides itself on covering all sides of important issues and asking direct questions of all newsmakers--of all political persuasions--even when others have taken a more partisan approach and even in the face of criticism from extremes on both ends of the political spectrum.
“ABC News is looking for the most thoughtful and diverse voices on this issue. ABC News alone will select those who will be in the audience asking questions of the president. Like any programs we broadcast, ABC News will have complete editorial control. To suggest otherwise is quite unfair to both our journalists and our audience.”