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Jewish World Review Dec. 29, 1999 /20 Teves, 5760

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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ABC aims at Kristol, shoots self in foot --
THREE YEARS AGO, ABC's Sunday morning news show "This Week" (formerly "This Week with David Brinkley") hired two well-known political partisans, William Kristol and George Stephanopolous, to offer commentary and insight on the news.

Stephanopolous had served as Bill Clinton's right-hand man for a number of years, and Bill Kristol had been former Vice President Dan Quayle's chief of staff, as well as an aide to former Education Secretary Bill Bennett and editor of The Weekly Standard. For those who fretted about the revolving door -- i.e., politicians or their aides circulating from office holding to holding forth without passing go -- ABC could plausibly respond that with two equivalent voices on the program, at least some semblance of balance is achieved.

Of course, regular viewers of the show and others know that true balance is almost never achieved on television. Most chat shows have ratios of liberals to conservatives in the neighborhood of 3 to 2. Though Cokie Roberts is no Eleanor Clift, she cannot be considered a voice of the right, either. So together with Sam Donaldson and George Stephanopolous, she forms part of centrist/liberal troika.

Now comes news that ABC executives, whose breakfasts have been curdling in their mouths as they survey the Nielson ratings, have hit upon the way to cure "This Week's" woes: fire Bill Kristol! Just after renewing the contract of George Stephanopolous, ABC announced that Kristol's contract would not be renewed.

Now, one would think that such an obviously unfair and stupid move would never be considered. Kristol is an extremely intelligent, well-connected and pithy observer of politics -- and honest as the day is long. One would suppose that the executives even contemplating axing him (out of financial worry spiced with political distaste for Kristol's views) would say something like this to themselves: "Show's losing viewers. They miss Brinkley. They're all a bunch of morons. It's all personality. That's all viewers care about. Still, can't drop Kristol and keep Stephanopolous. Wouldn't look right. We'd be accused of bias. And anyway, then the round table discussion would be 3 libs against one conservative. That would be Rush Limbaugh's field day. Nope, can't do it."

But they did! The Washington Post reports that David Westin, ABC News president -- who fired the show's producer, Dorrance Smith, three months ago -- is the moving force behind the scenes. (Others associated with "This Week" tried to assure the public that "Bill was not the problem with the show," but they clearly had no influence over the decision.)

Smith had been one of the creators of the original "This Week With David Brinkley" and had worked in television for 10 years before a brief hiatus to work in the Bush White House. That was too much for Westin. He told the Post's Howard Kurtz that while no one's previous employment should be held against him, "we shouldn't have executive producers who have identifiable alliances either way."

Oh brother. If Westin is truly concerned about seeming to be fair, he should consider what's on the air, rather than who is behind the camera. (Besides, the number of liberal producers to conservatives is probably 20 to one.) The proof is in the production: If you watch any ABC News program, you are going to get liberalism in its pure form.

Moreover, Westin might want to rethink the dumbing-down strategy that has sent the once-noble "This Week" into a ratings tailspin. For the last several months, on any given Sunday morning, you were more likely to see Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura than any other guest (whether the news justified it or not). And while NBC's Tim Russert aired substantive debate between Bill Bradley and Al Gore on "Meet the Press" (which is surging in the ratings), "This Week" was doing a soft feature on the two Mrs. Bushes. Not even the brilliant George Will can counterbalance the unbearable lightness of the new "This Week," and since, in the absence of the vigorous Bill Kristol, he is all that's left, the show is rapidly becoming what it never used to be: Skippable.

JWR contributor Mona Charen reads all of her mail. Let her know what you think by clicking here. Please bear in mind, though, that while all letters are read, due to the heavy amount of traffic, not all letters can be answered.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate