Journo's job uncertain, would not fill Walters '20/20' spot

ABC News is close to signing a deal with high-profile British journalist Martin Bashir, whose controversial interviews with celebrities including singer Michael Jackson and the late Princess Diana have made him almost as well known as his subjects.

News execs at the Alphabet had no comment Thursday after word of the possible hire broke in a London newspaper. Bashir hosts the “Tonight” program, produced by Granada and aired on commercial broadcast giant ITV.

“Bashir is a very talented journalist who would be a great addition to any news organization,” ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said.

Contrary to speculation in London, the Alphabet is not considering Bashir as a replacement for ABC News “20/20″ anchor Barbara Walters, who is stepping down from the newsmag later this year. Walters will continue to produce primetime specials for the news division.

Several U.S. cable news nets and network news divisions have been courting Bashir, but ABC appears to have emerged as the frontrunner. Bashir is rumored to have spoken of his plans to join ABC earlier this week at the Royal Television Society’s journalism awards in London, where his Jackson doc was named program of the year.

It’s not clear for which ABC news show Bashir is being considered. News insiders point out that in addition to being a keen interviewer, he is an accomplished investigative journalist who’s well versed in foreign affairs.

His tentative deal with ABC is rumored to be worth upwards of $1 million.

Bashir, whose “Living With Michael Jackson” was seen on ABC by 27 million people, is expected to leave Granada when his contract expires this summer.

Bashir’s effusive attitude toward interviewees landed him in trouble with Jackson, who claimed he felt betrayed after “Living With Michael Jackson” showed the singer sharing his bedroom with children.

Jackson responded by selling his own version of the encounter with Bashir, in which the interviewer was shown praising his relationship with children.

The star took Bashir to court and the case is still to be resolved. Jackson subsequently was charged in Santa Barbara with molesting a 12-year-old boy with whom he was shown holding hands in the program.

Bashir was working for BBC TV’s flagship current affairs show, “Panorama,” when he landed one of Blighty’s biggest journalistic scoops of the 1990s by persuading the Princess of Wales to talk about her husband’s adultery on primetime TV.

Bashir then was poached by ITV, where he has been a mainstay of the “Tonight” program.

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