ABC News draws fire for editing of CDC director’s interview

Thursday, January 13, 2022
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Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks during an event on Dec. 8, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. ABC News is under fire for how it edited an interview that CDC Director Rochelle Walensky gave to “Good Morning America.” AP PHOTO

NEW YORK (AP) — ABC News is under fire for its editing of a “Good Morning America” interview with CDC Director Rochelle Walensky that created uncertainty that’s being exploited by vaccine critics.

In the interview, Walensky discussed a study that showed how most vaccinated people who died of coronavirus were also sick for other reasons. But the way the interview was edited, it wasn’t clear she was talking about vaccinated people — and references spread widely online implying she was talking about all COVID-19 victims.

The interview was seized upon by figures like Donald Trump Jr., Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham to imply the Biden administration has been lying to the public about the importance of vaccines.

The network remained mum on Thursday about the controversy. However, experts say ABC News has a responsibility to talk to viewers about what happened and why, to prevent misinformation from spreading further.

In the interview on Friday, Cecilia Vega asked Walensky about the “encouraging headlines” surrounding a study that showed how well vaccines worked to prevent severe illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director began by summarizing some of the findings.

But ABC edited out the summary, about 20 seconds of her answer. That made it appear that Walensky began by saying: “The overwhelming numbers of deaths, over 75%, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities, so really these were people who were unwell to begin with.”

Besides making what she was saying unclear, the edit made it easy for people to distribute the exchange to make it appear that Walensky was talking about all COVID-19 patients who had died, not just the vaccinated.

ABC’s editing was a mistake, said Carol Marin, a veteran broadcast journalist and director of the Center for Journalism Integrity and Excellence at DePaul University.

In a situation like that, the network should make a quick fix and explain clearly to viewers why it was being done, Marin said Wednesday.

“It happens,” she said. “There are times when we edit so fast that we’re not sufficiently mindful of context.”

Without taking control of the situation, “people are just going to write the narrative for you,” said Kelly McBride, chairwoman of the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership at the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank.

“I get that you can’t spend every single minute in a defensive crouch, but people are asking more and more for transparency,” McBride said.

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