Viewers who tuned into the Jan. 26 edition of “ABC World News Tonight” had every reason to believe Cokie Roberts, standing in her overcoat, was reporting from in front of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.
That’s what it looked like and that’s where “World News” anchor Peter Jennings said Roberts was reporting from.
But in reality she was speaking in front of a projection of the Capitol in a studio at the news division’s Washington bureau.
The faux Capitol incident is particularly ill-timed for “World News,” which recently endured the messy firing of the newscast’s executive producer Emily Rooney.
Her replacement, former “Primetime Live” executive producer Rick Kaplan, has been on the job barely a month.
Understandably, the incident has caused an uproar in the executive suites of ABC News, with division prez Roone Arledge promising to investigate the matter.
“We’re looking into the circumstances surrounding the incident to determine how something like this could have happened,” said ABC News rep Liz Noyer, speaking on behalf of Arledge.What appears to have happened, according to ABC News sources, is that rookie “World News” executive producer Rick Kaplan wanted Roberts to go up to the Hill for her report so Roberts could talk live with Jennings about reaction to President Clinton’s State of the Union address the night before.
However, Roberts said she didn’t have time for the trip because she was committed to speak at a National Press Foundation dinner following the broadcast. It appears it was at that moment that the drive for the right image got in the way of sound news judgment.
“At the last minute it was decided to do a two-way with Peter Jennings,” said “World News” rep Arnot Walker. “Everybody was trying to accommodate Cokie. She had evening wear on, so she put her overcoat on over it. After it was over, Cokie and Rick Kaplan regretted it and realized it was a stupid thing to have done.”
This isn’t the first time something like this has happened at “World News.” In 1989, in a segment about alleged espionage activities of Felix Bloch, a former senior diplomat, the newscast faced a similar problem.
Grainy videotape was shown of a man who was supposed to be Bloch handing a briefcase to a Soviet agent. However, the shot was a recreation of what was supposed to have happened and wasn’t labeled as such.
A full-scale internal investigation was mounted and in a subsequent broadcast Jennings apologized for the error.