George Stephanopoulos’ interview with Darren Wilson – the police officer who killed African-American teenager Michael Brown – tells us a lot more about ABC News than it does about what actually happened that day in Ferguson, Mo.
Wilson’s account of events was hardly unexpected. He sounded like someone who had been well coached by attorneys, both in regard to potential criminal charges and a possible wrongful-death civil lawsuit. Stephanopoulos mischaracterized his demeanor as “very clinical,” when the better description would be “very lawyered up,” which is strictly an observation, not a criticism.
ABC, by contrast, approached its coup of landing the first sit-down chat with Wilson in an unorthodox way, or at least one that says a great deal about the network’s priorities, which have been crystal clear since Stephanopoulos – as host of “Good Morning America” – was designated the principal breaking-news and big-event anchor, putting him a rung above “World News’” David Muir within the ABC News hierarchy.
Simply put, there was a time not long ago when this sort of “big get” interview would have commanded an hour in primetime, or at the very least a lead segment on “20/20.”
Instead, ABC diced it into what amounted to bite-sized bits – airing sections on “World News,” “Nightline” and finally “GMA,” before throwing the whole thing on its website.
Even if bolstering “GMA,” and beating the “Today” show, has become ABC’s chief objective as a news organization, the decision appears puzzling. Granted, the network didn’t want to preempt or disrupt Tuesday’s “Dancing With the Stars” finale, but it surely wouldn’t have been a hardship to bump Wednesday’s “Nashville,” or Friday’s “True Confessions”-themed installment of the generally news-free newsmagazine “20/20.”
But primetime, seemingly, isn’t considered a destination for hard news on ABC these days, even during a moment when cities across the country are witnessing protests and expressions of anger and frustration triggered by the grand jury decision in the Brown case.
In that regard, while Stephanopoulos dutifully walked Wilson through a detailed account of his recollections regarding his encounter with Brown, the interview largely whiffed on the most pressing issue at the heart of the story: Law enforcement’s relationship with the African-American community — especially young men — in Ferguson, and by extension, in the U.S. as a whole.
Then again, what should one expect from an interview that gave way during the second hour of “GMA” to an extended, completely giddy “Dancing With the Stars” after-party? Given the perceived soft-news appetite of that audience, Stephanopoulos understandably balanced the tick-tock of what transpired with People-magazine-type questions, asking Wilson about where he goes from here.
The police officer insisted all he wants is to “just live a normal life,” although one suspects that ship has sailed, at least for the foreseeable future.
Yet while Wilson spoke in slow, measured tones, what ABC chose to air and its overall handling of the interview speaks volumes – very little of it good – about the new normal at ABC News.