TEXT OF INTERVIEW
STEVE CHIOTAKIS: The president of ABC News, David Westin, is stepping down at the end of the year. He’s been at the helm for 13 years there. He announced his resignation in an e-mail last night. Westin oversaw the death of anchor Peter Jennings, a shuffling in the anchor chair at World News, among other big changes there. The biggest news in his tenure — the layoff of 400 workers earlier this year. Westin told colleagues he wants to pursue other things, but insiders say he was forced out. Partly because ABC News is second place in the ratings. Partly because the division doesn’t make as much money as parent Walt Disney company, would like. Aaron Barnhart is a television critic over at Kansas City Star in Missouri. He’s with us live this morning from Kansas City. Good morning.
AARON BARNHART: Hi Steve.
CHIOTAKIS: Hey, did this come as a surprise?
BARNHART: A surprise in the sense that the news was sudden, but in another sense probably not. I’ve been on the beat for 13 years, and David Westin is the only ABC president I’ve had. In that time, enough issues have percolated up, particularly lately, about whether his leadership was positioning ABc News for the future.
CHIOTAKIS: And he had some big shoes to fill in Roone Arledge, right? Who created Monday Night Football and there was a lot of money to be made in all of that, right?
BARNHART: And the thing that Roone Arledge did — and this was always the rap on Westin — was that Roone thought out of the box and Roone took chances. He spent a lot of money on anchors. He reinvented the look and feel at ABC News. And it’s hard to point at any one thing that Westin did other than launch a service called ABC News NOW that nobody I know can get.
CHIOTAKIS: Yeah, there is no cable network. So what were the criticisms of Westin by ABC execs?
BARNHART: And the cable news factors into that, Steve. I think one of the things that Westin did not do was proactively think about where ABC News needed to go. And without that kind of vision, it could very quickly become a CBS News division, which is a much smaller version of ABC News.
CHIOTAKIS: Yeah, the perennial third place, right?
BARNHART: Yeah, cable news in particular is going to be a real sore spot. NBC is number one in mornings, they’re number one in evenings and they have a cable news partner that allows them to look a lot bigger than just the broadcast network. And Westin was criticized for never pursuing talks with CNN. About the only thing he did was bring over Christiane Amanpour and pay her a lot of money just at a time when he was laying off all those people. So he was criticized for that too.
CHIOTAKIS: All right, Aaron Barnhart, TV critic over at the Kansas City Star, thanks.
BARNHART: Thank you.