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20 Years Ago: ABC News Prez Had ‘No Opinion’ on Whether Pentagon Attack Was ‘Legitimate’

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Here’s a question that shouldn’t be hard for anyone: “[Was] the Pentagon a legitimate target?” But it wasn’t a simple one for then-ABC President David Westin exactly 20 years ago today. On October 23, 2001, at an event at Columbia University, Westin offered a sickening response to 9/11. Regarding the horrific terror attacks on the U.S., just six weeks old at that point, Westin declared he “should not be taking a position on” the Pentagon:  

The Pentagon as a legitimate target? I actually don’t have an opinion on that and it’s important I not have an opinion on that as I sit here in my capacity right now. The way I conceive my job running a news organization…. Our job is to determine what is, not what ought to be and when we get into the job of what ought to be I think we’re not doing a service to the American people. 

I can say the Pentagon got hit, I can say this is what their position is, this is what our position is, but for me to take a position this was right or wrong, I mean, that’s perhaps for me in my private life, perhaps it’s for me dealing with my loved ones, perhaps it’s for my minister at church. But as a journalist I feel strongly that’s something that I should not be taking a position on. I’m supposed to figure out what is and what is not, not what ought to be.

After Media Research Center Vice President blasted the egregious comment around the world in the MRC’s October 29, 2001 CyberAlert, Westin was forced to apologize

Like all Americans, I was horrified at the loss of life at the Pentagon, as well as in New York and Pennsylvania on September 11. When asked at an interview session at the Columbia Journalism School whether I believed that the Pentagon was a legitimate target for terrorists I responded that, as a journalist, I did not have an opinion. I was wrong. I gave an answer to journalism students to illustrate the broad, academic principle that all journalists should draw a firm line between what they know and what their personal opinion might be. Upon reflection, I realized that my answer did not address the specifics of September 11. Under any interpretation, the attack on the Pentagon was criminal and entirely without justification. I apologize for any harm that my misstatement may have caused.

Showing a level of tone deafness, Westin bragged to The Hill in 2012: “I was very proud of our 9/11 coverage — it was a tragic, horrific set of events, but nonetheless … the entire news division rose to the occasion. … I was very proud of the job we all did.” 

Well, maybe not the job that EVERYONE at ABC did. 

For more examples from our flashback series, which we call the NewsBusters Time Machine, go here

Here’s Westin’s original October 23 answer, in full:

The Pentagon as a legitimate target? I actually don’t have an opinion on that and it’s important I not have an opinion on that as I sit here in my capacity right now. The way I conceive my job running a news organization, and the way I would like all the journalists at ABC News to perceive it, is there is a big difference between a normative position and a positive position. Our job is to determine what is, not what ought to be and when we get into the job of what ought to be I think we’re not doing a service to the American people. I can say the Pentagon got hit, I can say this is what their position is, this is what our position is, but for me to take a position this was right or wrong, I mean, that’s perhaps for me in my private life, perhaps it’s for me dealing with my loved ones, perhaps it’s for my minister at church. But as a journalist I feel strongly that’s something that I should not be taking a position on. I’m supposed to figure out what is and what is not, not what ought to be.

What do you think?

Written by Newsman

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