Inside Move: ABC’s Westin mauled in mag

New Yorker's Mayer makes new & old allegations

ABC News figures to be vibrating unpleasantly this week over the most serious attack yet on the troubled three-year reign of its president, David Westin, by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker.

Mayer has uncovered new information regarding two celebrated ABC News interviews:

  • Westin himself actually leaked the memo that was meant to defend ABC News over its hiring of Leonardo DiCaprio to interview President Clinton about environmental matters. When the memo backfired and made ABC News’ DiCaprio decision look even more crass, Westin put the word out that he was angry over the so-called unauthorized leak.

  • The key connection that led to the celebrated March 3, 1999, exclusive Barbara Walters interview of Monica Lewinsky was the Washington attorney Theodore Olson. Mayer says ABC News paid Olson $25,000 for interceding with Kenneth Starr to get a waiver of the immunity agreement Lewinsky has signed so she could do the primetime Walters interview.

About Olson, a spokeswoman for ABC News said the network paid the lawyer “for his specialized knowledge and expertise in immunity agreements” and “for work directly connected to obtaining the necessary legal permission” for the interview with Lewinsky. Thus the payment didn’t violate the network’s policy of not paying for interviews with newsmakers.

The spokeswoman says the DiCaprio incident was so thoroughly hashed over in the press last March that “it’s now an old story, and a big yawn.”

The New Yorker piece recapitulates some of the incidents that have brought unwelcome attention to ABC News, including:

  • The killing of a “20/20” report by Brian Ross about faulty screening procedures at theme parks owned by ABC’s parent company, Walt Disney, that let convicted child molesters get hired;

  • The mishandling of Diane Sawyer’s interview with Elian Gonzalez, in which his comment that he didn’t want his father to take him back to Cuba was almost buried in the report; and

  • The close friendship of Westin and Diane Sawyer, which has created tension in the contract reneogtiations between ABC News and Barbara Walters.