Donaldson to Disney: Don't burn the village

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ABC News' Sam Donaldson had a message for his bosses at The Walt Disney Co. last night: Destroying the village in an attempt to save it is wrong.

The war metaphor, borrowed perhaps from Donaldson's days covering Vietnam,
was in keeping with the ongoing battle between ABC News and Disney
corporate.

In accepting the "Len Zeidenberg First Amendment Award" from the Radio-Television News Directors Association in Washington, D.C., Donaldson decried what he
sees as an effort by ABC and others to reduce the number of serious news
programs on the air.

The village reference stemmed most immediately from Disney`s courting of
David Letterman (who instead chose to stay with CBS) and its apparent
willingness to dump or scale back Nightline if that effort had been
successful.

The Nightline theme surfaced early in the event, when RTNDA president Barbara Cochran said coverage of
Sept. 11 demonstrated clearly that radio and TV news was still relevant.

The emphasis and choice of words were greeted by knowing nods from the
assembled journalists since one unnamed Disney executive had been quoted as
saying that Nightline was no longer "relevant," a characterization
Nightline anchor Ted Koppel was quick to dispute.

Koppel, in the audience, got a big hand.

Saying that Disney executives were "good people" with a responsibility to their
shareholders, Donaldson advised journalists that it was their job to convince top
management at networks and local stations of the continued relevance of serious
news.

And if you can't convince them, he continued: Preach.

For a text, the Rev. Donaldson advised Matthew 16: 26: "For what is a man
profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"

"If we give in," he told the audience, "we have gained nothing and we have
lost everything."

The award, named after the late Broadcasting & Cable senior
correspondent, is for a journalist who "embodies the spirit of the First
Amendment and a free press."

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