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A Very Long Good-bye
on June 22, 2012
David Westin had been a partner in a major Washington-based law firm, ABC Network general counsel and then network head and then volunteered to "step down" a notch and replace the legendary Roone Arledge as President of ABC News, the latter of which ran for a tumultuous 14-year time frame that began in 1997. Most books that are written by former television executives and on-air talent are used to "get even" with many perceived and real enemies and provide an otherwise hard-to-get behind-the-scenes look at the people we hardly know. Caution: Do not read this book if that is your reason to read Westin's ABC News memoirs (there is virtually little written about his stint as ABC Network President). In fact, I think the primary audience would be those young individuals still in journalism school interested in entering the extremely competitive field of broadcast journalism.
My main problem with the book is that there is little here that would suggest that Westin was even an ABC insider for so many years since so much of what he writes could have been googled long before Exit Interview was published. More troublesome, there is a tremendous amount of redundancy. While Westin thanks so many people in the Acknowledgments section at the end for their help in the editing process, one can only tremble at what the unedited version of Exit Interview looked like.
Having said all of this--and after having read each and every word in this book--there are two chapters that are really worth reading. The first is Chapter 7, "The Swift Boat Saga: Is Balance Overrated?" Westin takes the time to debunk some of the Swift Boat charges against Senator John Kerry during Kerry's 2004 presidential run and underscores the fact that not every issue has two sides, a concept that many journalists don't appreciate. Sometimes, the only side is the truth.
The other chapter that is unbelievably moving is Chapter 8, "Is Any News Report Worth Dying For? The Bob Woodruff Story." In this chapter, Westin does break form and gives us a good tick-tock of the early days of the events surrounding Woodruff's brain injuries and then summarizes the recovery process. Bob Woodruff is one brave man, right from the Dan Rather school. However, there is one section of this chapter (page 191) which symbolizes, unfortunately, the political acrobatics necessitated by being the President of a network news division. When Bob Woodruff was finally transferred from Iraq and Germany to the U.S. (to the military hospital in Besthesda), Bob's wife, Lee, asked David whether he wanted to visit with Bob for what would have been David's first time. David declined because he "wanted Lee to be able to tell everyone else at ABC News that I hadn't been to his room, so the fact that they were kept away wasn't meant as disrepect." I bring this up because almost every page of this book underscores how political David had to be in all circumstances to be an ABC News President survivor.
There is so much that I would have liked to have learned about the ABC network and ABC news for the years that Westin was a key executive. Unfortunately, we will have to wait to get the book that many of us would have liked to have read.