ABC News found the commentary objectionable. So it took him out of the rotation: “Any action that damages our reputation for fairness and impartiality or gives the appearance of compromising it harms ABC News and the individuals involved. David Wright has been suspended, and to avoid any possible appearance of bias, he will be reassigned away from political coverage when he returns,” reads a statement from the network.
Project Veritas specializes in this sort of thing: Send an operative after representatives of the mainstream media, coax them into talking shop and then present the supposedly scandalous results to the public. They did it with CNN in 2017, when an employee not involved in political coverage riffed on the Trump-Russia story: “I just feel like they don’t really have it, but they want to keep digging,” said an Atlanta-based producer. “And so I think the president is probably right to say, like, look you are witch hunting me. Like you have no smoking gun, you have no real proof.” They did it with the New York Times, when a junior video producer boasted about stepping over an ethical boundary. They did it with the Washington Post, when a military reporter emerged on tape saying that the newspaper’s editorial writers “definitely don’t like Trump.”
In Wright’s Project Veritas appearance, he speaks on a number of topics. He calls Trump a “d---,” for example. He renders some analysis of Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.): “Yeah, I think, you now, Bernie is very old and I think he doesn’t want to admit that. Bernie is also I think he- like he believes in the movement that he started. And, he did really, he was John the Baptist; you know but he doesn’t need to be a messiah.” And he gives a nod to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass): “Setting aside my professional dispassion, I worry that if he’s [Sanders] elected, he’s not going to get anything done. Because he hasn’t gotten anything done. Where I do think Warren taking those same issues could get something done.”
Bolding added to highlight the most consequential clause of this entire embarrassment: Even while he was flapping his gums at a hotel bar, Wright was careful to note that he was, at that moment, taking leave of his “professional dispassion.” Which is to say, again, that he was spouting off at a bar.
And when journalists spout off at a bar, an elbow or two in the direction of corporate overlords is just a matter of time. “I feel that the truth suffers, the voters are poorly informed, and people don’t have the opportunity to tune into whatever they want to here. It’s like there’s no upside in, or our bosses don’t see an upside in doing the job we’re supposed to do which is to speak truth to power and hold people to account,” he says in the video. He also bashes “Good Morning America” as a promotional vehicle for Disney franchises: “You can’t watch ‘Good Morning America’ without a Disney princess or a Marvel Avenger appearing.”
In what is perhaps an attestation to the skill’s of O’Keefe’s operative, Wright discloses his own political viewpoint: “Oh yeah. More than that I would consider myself a socialist,” Wright says when asked if he is a democratic socialist. “Like, I think there should be national health insurance. I’m totally fine with reining in corporations, I think there are too many billionaires, and I think there’s a wealth gap — that’s a problem.”
In sum, a boring night at the Doubletree. Here we have a man talking about his political preferences, mildly criticizing his bosses and criticizing President Trump’s prickliness, something that isn’t particularly controversial.
The problem with this particular genre of Project Veritas “sting” fare is, well, who cares what reporters say in discussions that they presume to be private? What does matter is the work that they present to the public. In the case of Wright, he filed a report for ABC News’s “Nightline” on Feb. 10, the day before the New Hampshire primary, that provided a broad look at the Democratic race. And if you suppose that Wright’s own, self-professed socialist leanings influenced his take on the disaster that had occurred days earlier in Iowa, check your suppositions: “For the Democrats, the 2020 campaign is off to a disastrous start. This has probably been their worst week since Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump. Iowa was supposed to narrow the field of candidates. It didn’t,” said Wright in his report.
In a Feb. 7 report, Wright summarized a week in which Trump gave a State of the Union speech and rejoiced in his acquittal in the Senate’s impeachment proceedings. “This has been a pretty good week for the president,” said Wright, who has been with ABC News since 2000 and covered the 2016 presidential race for “Nightline.”
Perhaps such evenhanded work explains why the ABC News statement on Wright’s suspension lands heavily on appearance, not on substance. To repeat: “Any action that damages our reputation for fairness and impartiality or gives the appearance of compromising it harms ABC News and the individuals involved.” Does “any action” include socializing at a watering hole?
To appreciate the puniness of this O’Keefe sting, consider a more momentous scoop from the outfit, which also relates to ABC News. In November, Project Veritas published a video of ABC News’s Amy Robach on a hot mic lamenting how her bosses had wimped out on the Jeffrey Epstein story. Though her bosses disputed her version of events, the story related to actual journalistic content. It also touched off a firestorm.
The ABC News statement cites concern about the “appearance of bias” stemming from the Project Veritas sting. What bias? Must the Erik Wemple Blog lecture the suits at ABC News that having an opinion about politics is not the same as having a bias? Remember the words of Michael Kinsley, as laid out in a Slate article in 2000: “Bias is a failure to suppress your opinions.”
If ABC News has any concerns about Wright’s alleged bias — even the appearance of such — then it should present the evidence.
There’s also a suggestion in the statement that ABC News is powerless vis-a-vis this vile “appearance” created by the Project Veritas video. The network must suspend this correspondent, goes the reasoning, in order to protect its reputation for objectivity in these divided times. Wrong: ABC News is powerful enough to fight back, to issue a declaration along these lines: We are proud of the work of David Wright, and we denounce this attempt to weaponize his affability and openness.
Which brings up the only grounds on which a suspension is justified here: that Wright was naive enough — after numerous O’Keefe stings against the mainstream media had made news — to speak candidly with another person at a bar. Journalists today live in a society of surveillance anarchy created to a large degree by O’Keefe. Maybe they should know better than to be nice and talkative.
“We commend David Wright for his honesty,” O’Keefe said in a statement. “No one should be suspended from their job for truth-telling.”
Note: The Erik Wemple Blog has amended the headline of this piece by removing the word “scalp” and replacing it with “victory.” Our thanks go to readers who raised concerns about the wording.