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CyberAlert -- 10/31/2001 -- ABC News President David Westin Has Apologized

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Reacting to CyberAlert Item, ABC News President David Westin Has Apologized and Said "I Was Wrong" for Having "No Opinion" on Whether the Pentagon Was a "Legitimate" Military Target

Today's New York Post featured an editorial about ABC News President David Westin's comments quoted in the October 29 CyberAlert. That led Matt Drudge to pick up on the CyberAlert item and feature it on his home page under the banner headline: "ABC NEWS HEAD DECLARES: JOURNALISTS SHOULD HAVE 'NO OPINION' IF TERROR ATTACKS WERE 'RIGHT OR WRONG.'"

That, in turn, prompted Rush Limbaugh today to devote most of his first hour to Westin's remarks made last week at a Columbia University forum which were shown over the weekend on C-SPAN.

Below is the original CyberAlert item followed by a link to a video clip of Westin's remarks, Westin's statement today and links to the DrudgeReport.com article as well as the New York Post editorial.

-- October 29 CyberAlert story:
David Westin doesn't think the World Trade Center was a legitimate military target but refused to say the same about the terrorist targeting of the Pentagon building, headquarters of the Department of Defense. Appearing at a Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism event last Tuesday shown on C-SPAN over the weekend, the President of ABC News demurred: "The Pentagon as a legitimate target? I actually don't have an opinion on that."

Westin maintained that "our job is to determine what is, not what ought to be." He elaborated: "I can say the Pentagon got hit, I can say this is what their position is, this is what our position is, but for me to take a position this was right or wrong, I mean, that's perhaps for me in my private life, perhaps it's for me dealing with my loved one, perhaps it's for my minister at church. But as a journalist I feel strongly that's something that I should not be taking a position on."

Westin was responding to a questioner in the audience who, picking up on Westin's observation in his address to the group that thousands of innocent civilians were killed in the attack on the World Trade Center, inquired: "Do you believe the Pentagon was a legitimate military target, even if the missile was not?"

(I believe by "missile" the questioner meant the planes hitting the World Trade Center.)

Westin replied at the October 23 event which C-SPAN played on Saturday night, October 27: "The Pentagon as a legitimate target? I actually don't have an opinion on that and it's important I not have an opinion on that as I sit here in my capacity right now. The way I conceive my job running a news organization, and the way I would like all the journalists at ABC News to perceive it, is there is a big difference between a normative position and a positive position. Our job is to determine what is, not what ought to be and when we get into the job of what ought to be I think we're not doing a service to the American people. I can say the Pentagon got hit, I can say this is what their position is, this is what our position is, but for me to take a position this was right or wrong, I mean, that's perhaps for me in my private life, perhaps it's for me dealing with my loved ones, perhaps it's for my minister at church. But as a journalist I feel strongly that's something that I should not be taking a position on. I'm supposed to figure out what is and what is not, not what ought to be."

Another item to file under "journalist first, American second."

-- For a RealPlayer video clip of the multi-part question and Westin's entire answer, which will allow you to see and hear Westin's reply to the other parts of the question as well as the relevant portion about the Pentagon quoted above, go to: http://www.mrc.org/news/cyberalert/2001/cyb20011029.asp#2

-- ABC News this afternoon e-mailed to the MRC this statement from ABC News President David Westin:
"Like all Americans, I was horrified at the loss of life at the Pentagon, as well as in New York and Pennsylvania on September 11. When asked at an interview session at the Columbia Journalism School whether I believed that the Pentagon was a legitimate target for terrorists I responded that, as a journalist, I did not have an opinion. I was wrong. I gave an answer to journalism students to illustrate the broad, academic principle that all journalists should draw a firm line between what they know and what their personal opinion might be. Upon reflection, I realized that my answer did not address the specifics of September 11. Under any interpretation, the attack on the Pentagon was criminal and entirely without justification. I apologize for any harm that my misstatement may have caused."

-- For the DrudgeReport story: http://www.drudgereport.com/flashw1.htm

-- For the New York Post editorial: http://www.nypost.com/postopinion/editorial/32942.htm

All in a day's work. -- Brent Baker


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