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Media struggle with decisions of safety, security, ABC News president says

Especially in an era of terrorist and sniper attacks, the media continually grapple with what they should print and air, ABC News President David Westin said in a speech in the Michigan Union Ballroom.
Westin (Photo by Wanda Monroe, University Library)

"Are we in the media helping or hurting the cause of security, whether it's national or personal security?" Westin said in the Oct. 24 speech. "The responsibility ultimately lies with us in the news media to determine what it is right to publish, not just what we have the right to publish."

Westin spoke about times when officials have asked news organizations not to publish certain information, including when ABC News had details about messages left by the Washington, D.C., area serial sniper before other media outlets. In that case, ABC News did not air the information at the time, he said.

In general, though, he said the media should err on the side of publication, "provided that the information involved is truly important for the American people to know."

He discussed historical and recent examples of the struggle between national security interests and the publication of information, such as when a White House official asked news organizations not to report the locations of the president, vice president and other high-ranking officials after the terrorist attacks. ABC News said no to the request.

Westin answered a question about a possible merger of ABC and CNN news divisions, noting that mergers can work if they don't produce a lower-quality product. He also said ABC will be more cautious when announcing results during the upcoming election, after the incorrect calls that networks made in the 2000 presidential election.

"The main thing we're planning to do is not get it wrong," he said.

Westin received his bachelor's degree in philosophy from U-M and graduated first in his class at the Law School. William A. Gosling, director of the University Library, invited him to campus at the request of the Friends of the University Library, a sponsor of the event along with the Office of the Vice President for Communications and the University Library.


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