I Think the Sherwood Video is Wickedly Funny, but ”Alan Smithee” Will Have to Get the Credit
note from your friendly blogarist: “Anonymousity” will be a continuing discussion in our daily Xpress, the blog with the slug line “we put our name to it.”
The inaugural address parody of Ben Sherwood is now viral, at least throughout the news business. And it is more than a stunning welcome for the new president of ABC News.
As vividly as I can recall “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” and “Where were you when the space shuttle blew up,” I suspect I will always be able to answer “Where were you when you first saw the Sherwood video?”
While I think it is wickedly funny, I also think it’s a scathing, and harmful indictment of Anne Sweeney and her decision who will lead ABC News out of the mess in which they are now mired. And I think that’s too bad. I, for one, would like to see ABC News, where I spent 17 years of my career, restored to its glory days and financial stability.
ABC NEWS FORECAST: BLAMESTORM WINDS GATHERING
Years ago, when Betsy West left ABC News to be a vice president at CBS, I sent her a going away card that read, “We don’t blame you for leaving…” continuing on the inside, “but after you’re gone, we’ll blame you for everything else.”
It’s particularly funny to anyone who knows the standard operating procedures of network news. I should have bought a stack of cards to send “notes to self” over the past five years.
Sadly, over the years, ABC News has been reduced to a toxic soup of pathologic gossip, witch hunts and abuse of power by management. Someone took the humanity out of human resources and turned it into a weapon of mass destruction.
Perhaps because Ben Sherwood so suddenly replaced me at Good Morning America, (or perhaps it’s because his video is so darn clever) that some people still there have credited me with the creation of his video. So, just this once, and on the record, here it is: I have never been an anonymous source for gossip about present or past colleagues in my 30-year career. Although I’ve built my journalism career in part on information from anonymous sources, I have never been one myself.
It’s not an accident that the slug line for the daily Xpress, the blog I created a few months ago, is “we put our name to it.”
THE TOXIC CULTURE HAS IMPACTED ABC’S BOTTOM LINE
I’ve always said the running a morning show is like occupying the White House. It doesn’t belong to you and if you’re lucky enough to occupy the space for a few years, your only obligation is to leave it in better shape than you found it.
In running all of ABC News, Ben Sherwood now has an even greater obligation. World News with Diane Sawyer has seen declines in viewers (adult 25-54) every single week this season over last year with Charlie Gibson. This Week with Christiane Amanpour is in free fall. Hundreds of people, many have been my friends and treasured colleagues, have been laid off. Bureaus around the world have been closed.
The debate over whether or not Ben Sherwood earned or even deserves the job is irrelevant. He’s got it and now he needs all the help he can get to rescue a decaying news division and move it into a bold new landscape.
To start, maybe Ben will make the act of leaking anonymous gossip, with the intent to harm a colleague, a broadcast or the news division, a firing offense. There are legal models in the U.K. to follow.
No one should have to begin an important new job with a recycled profile detailing how he’s feathered his resume his entire life, or a re-circulated e-mail which reveals how his wife or mother or whoever calls him “Doll,” helped write his Christmas message to the GMA staff. Certainly, no one needs to be cast as a viral joke.
It’s time for the nastiness and finger pointing to stop. Ben Sherwood should be given some space along with the freedom to spend every working day proving the skeptics wrong and winning them over with real and measurable results.
Then, if hard work and a clear vision doesn’t work, perhaps ABC News can try a Truth and Reconciliation Commission where everyone, including management, anchors, correspondents and, yes, even the new president, can come clean on what was done in the past and why.