Veteran ABC News reporter suspended over sting by controversial conservative group

Video shows David Wright complaining about political coverage and network's promotion of Disney shows

Veteran ABC reporter caught in sting by conservative group

ABC News suspended one of its veteran correspondents late on Tuesday for unguarded remarks he made in a video by operatives of Project Veritas, the conservative group that records “undercover” footage of mainstream journalists to bolster its accusations of media bias.

The network disciplined David Wright, who reports for ABC’s signature news programs, including World News Tonight, Good Morning America and Nightline, several people confirmed late on Tuesday.

The choppy, poorly shot video, released on Wednesday morning by Project Veritas, captured Mr Wright on what appeared to be a hidden camera, seeming to complain in general terms about political coverage.

“I don’t think we’re terribly interested in voters,” he said, echoing gripes about the superficiality of some aspects of White House and campaign coverage that have been raised by journalists for decades. Also: “Commercial imperative is incompatible with news.”

At one point he says, “We don’t hold him him to account. We also don’t give him credit for what things he does do.” In subtitles, Project Veritas indicated that “him” stood for President Trump. He refers to Trump at another point as “the f------ president.”

But ABC likely was also alarmed at Mr Wright’s criticism of ABC News, which is owned by the Disney Co. At another point, he raises another longstanding critique of ABC News — that it blends news with promotion of Disney-owned movies and TV programmes.

“Like now you can’t watch Good Morning America without there being a Disney princess or a Marvel Avenger appearing,” he says. “It’s all self-promotional.”

In a statement on Wednesday, ABC News said, “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.”

In the video, which the group said was taken while Mr Wright covered the New Hampshire primary, a voice asks the reporter if he considers himself “a Democratic socialist,” and Wright seems to reply, “more than that, I consider myself a socialist.”

Mr Wright didn't respond to several requests for comment on Tuesday.

Project Veritas' founder, James O'Keefe, teased the release of the video on Twitter on Tuesday with the hashtag #ExposeABC. He tweeted that his group “will expose ABC News' agenda to mislead voters and push their own narratives” and said in response to the upcoming release that ABC News had suspended “the correspondent involved.” He didn't identify Wright or provide details.

Mr Wright, 56, is one of ABC's most seasoned and versatile correspondents, having joined the network nearly 20 years ago. He has covered the White House and was Nightline's lead political reporter during the 2016 presidential campaign. He has also periodically reported from the Middle East and Europe, including covering the Notre Dame cathedral fire in Paris last year. He shared a 2004 Emmy Award for his reporting from Iraq and shared a Peabody Award for reporting in Afghanistan after the 11 September, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Project Veritas conducts undercover “stings” of journalists and others it considers allied with liberal causes or organisations. Its operatives often befriend the organisation's targets using aliases and lull them into casual conversations in bars or restaurants that are then surreptitiously recorded. The videos are edited and released publicly in an effort to show what Mr O'Keefe calls liberal bias or allegedly corrupt practices.

Although Mr O'Keefe has defended the organisation's methods as journalistically sound, mainstream news organisations have largely abandoned the practice of infiltrating businesses or organisations to record video without a subject's knowledge or consent. News organisations generally consider the practice deceptive, and doing so can subject them to criminal trespass penalties.

Mr O'Keefe's group has targeted media organisations such as CNN, NPR and the New York Times, as well as Democratic political operatives.

The Washington Post was the apparent target of a Project Veritas sting in 2017 when a woman, later identified as Jaime Phillips, approached a Post reporter with allegedly damaging information about Roy Moore, then a Senate candidate in Alabama. The Post discovered the woman's apparent affiliation with Project Veritas and that her story was a hoax. The Post recorded video as she attempted to plant the false story.

ABC, coincidentally, was involved in perhaps the most famous case involving undercover video. The Food Lion supermarket chain sued ABC in 1996 after it aired a segment about unsanitary practices at the stores on PrimeTime Live.

To get footage for the story, two ABC News producers obtained jobs at Food Lion stores using false references and altered work histories. An appeals court eventually rejected Food Lion's fraud claims but upheld a jury's $2 award for breach of loyalty and trespass.

Washington Post

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in