Exit Interview

Overview

When David Westin became president of ABC News in March 1997, the division was treading water. “It looked like all the really important news was behind us,” he writes. Hardly. For the next thirteen years, Westin would preside over ABC News during some of the most important and perplexing events in its history:

• President Clinton’s impeachment

• The tied 2000 presidential election

• The 9/11 attacks

• Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan

• The swift boat smear campaign against ...

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Exit Interview

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Overview

When David Westin became president of ABC News in March 1997, the division was treading water. “It looked like all the really important news was behind us,” he writes. Hardly. For the next thirteen years, Westin would preside over ABC News during some of the most important and perplexing events in its history:

• President Clinton’s impeachment

• The tied 2000 presidential election

• The 9/11 attacks

• Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan

• The swift boat smear campaign against Senator John Kerry

 

Exit Interview is a behind-the-scenes look at Westin’s tenure and the major news that marked it. He takes us inside the chaos of the newsroom—alongside major players such as Peter Jennings, Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, and Bob Woodruff—where what looks clear and certain from the outside is often mired in conflict and urgency. Neither an apologia nor a critique, the book charts the ups and downs of fourteen formative years in network news, addressing basic questions about how our news is reported, from the point of view of someone who was there. With milestones from the recent past, Westin explores the uncertainty inherent in his job, and its central question: Is it possible for journalists to be both good at their jobs and people of good moral character?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Like any good journalist, Westin delivers his feature story with finesse, urgency, and a suggestion of larger themes. Yet Westin, as he often reminds us in this compelling hybrid memoir and business guide, is not a journalist, but a lawyer turned corporate manager who joined ABC News in 1997 just in time for a princess’s death, an infamous blue dress, and a terrorist attack. In this behind-the-scenes account, Westin (president of ABC News until 2010) describes himself as a flat-footed bureaucrat faced with an art-meets-business situation: the need to balance news versus entertainment; the safety of journalists versus getting the story; and getting the story first versus getting it right. Along the way, he addresses issues of bias, patriotism, and national security, as well as how leaders make tough decisions in difficult times. In the final chapters, Westin rationalizes a restructuring at the end of his tenure, as ABC News faced increased competition and the digital transformation of media consumption, and offers a timely discussion about the future of the media industry itself. Agent: Bob Barnett, Williams & Connolly. (May)
From the Publisher
“David Westin writes with vivid experience and clarity about real life on the high wire of television journalism. Each chapter is a pulse-pounding journey into a crisis—where he presided over big personalities wrestling with big decisions with serious consequences. He has written a book about triumph. Mistakes made and lessons learned. And the real reason reporters get up each day to do it all again.” —Diane Sawyer, anchor, ABC World News

“This is both a fascinating inside look at television news and a thoughtful analysis of the ethical dilemmas of journalism. David Westin writes with delightful charm about his fourteen years running ABC News and draws lessons that are enlightening not only for journalists but for everyone.”

—Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs

“I watched David Westin manage ABC News at a time of tectonic change for the media—and the world we cover. Here he tells that vivid story with insight and candor, revealing the real-life trade-offs that are the daily business of television news. Exit Interview is a master class in modern journalism.” —George Stephanopoulos, chief political correspondent, ABC News

“David Westin entered the news world as an outsider and gained the trust and respect of industry veterans. Although David is never one to claim credit, this book is ultimately about leadership and a deep commitment to the best of what journalism can be today.” —Robert A. Iger, President and Chief Executive Officer, The Walt Disney Company

Library Journal
As broadcast television news faces the challenges of changing technology and cable news competition, Westin, president of ABC News from 1997 until his retirement in 2010, analyzes his experiences in the context of the future of journalism. This personal account covers the major stories of his tenure, from the death of Princess Diana to the wounding of ABC reporters Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt in Iraq. His background as a corporate lawyer lends the book somewhat of an outsider's perspective, while his on-the-job experience offers readers deep insights into the workings of newsrooms and journalists. The behind-the-scenes account of the discussions on how to cover the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal illustrates the struggle of balancing what people want to hear with what journalists think their audience ought to hear. He concludes with a chapter about the cost of producing news programs, pointing out that the industry's survival is dependent on restructuring. VERDICT Westin captures in an engaging style the excitement and tension of the newsroom, along with the complexity of deciding what to air. Both journalism students and general readers will be interested in the stories and issues. [See Prepub Alert, 11/7/11.]—Judy Solberg, Seattle Univ. Lib.
Kirkus Reviews
A former president of ABC News looks back over the stories that shaped his leadership. Westin succeeded Roone Arledge as the head of the news organization in 1997. Here he presents an insider's view of some of the bigger stories that broke while he was in charge and defends the continuing value of broadcast news. The major stories included the death of Princess Diana, the Monica Lewinsky scandal and President Clinton's impeachment, the breakdown of exit polling in the 2000 presidential election debacle, 9/11 and the subsequent invasion of Iraq. The author shows how he established himself within the company and also the country as the leader of the most-watched network news broadcast in America. Westin also notes that while networks favored advertiser-funded broadcasting that avoided controversy, Fox News and others "embraced controversy. The more partisan, the better. And this approach was every bit a matter of shrewd business as it was a matter of ideology." The author's selected stories demonstrate how the news can be covered without becoming overly polemical, and he argues against the temptation "to cut back on the reporting and seek an audience through the expression of opinion." In that vein, he looks at Fox's mixture of "twenty-four hour news with polemics" and its relation to conservative politics. ABC News still reaches four times as many viewers as Fox, and Westin discusses how technology and the Web are being used to defend that advantage. Should interest more than just news or politics junkies.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374151218
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 5/22/2012
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.16 (h) x 0.89 (d)

Meet the Author

David Westin was president of ABC News from March 6, 1997, to December 3, 2010. He lives in Bronxville, New York.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 3

1 My Sister. Peter Jennings, and Lady Diana 13

2 In the Line of Fire: The Story of the Blue Dress 36

3 "Planet Earth": My Leonardo DiCaprio Problem 58

4 Gore Wins? Bush Wins? How the Networks Blew the 2000 Election-Twice 81

5 Showing the Flag: Journalism and Patriotism After 9/11 104

6 War and Bias: Portraits of the Fallen 135

7 The Swift Boat Saga: Is Balance Overrated? 156

8 Is Any News Report Worth Dying For? The Bob Woodruff Story 176

9 Can We Afford the News? Why ABC News Lost a Quarter of Itself 200

Acknowledgments 227

Index 229

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