FIRST OFF . . .
ABC News President Roone Arledge denied that the network intentionally faked a photograph in the Felix Bloch spy story and lashed out at former television news executives who have criticized ABC. Arledge said the incident was the result of a “production error,” not a deliberate attempt to mislead viewers in the story about a career diplomat suspected of espionage.
The network has been widely criticized for the “World News Tonight” broadcast July 21 that used actors to simulate the handing over of a briefcase by a diplomat to a Soviet KGB agent. The ABC News chief said that the production error occurred because the producers of the show wanted to use an artist’s sketch of the handing over of a briefcase but that no artist was available at the time. Instead the producer of ABC’s “World News Tonight” took a Polaroid shot of the simulated briefcase exchange, intending to use what Arledge called a “paint-box” technique to turn the photograph into a sketch. Unknown to the people in the control room, the photograph was shown on the air.
Defending his network, Arledge said, “There’s a difference between an error or a lapse of taste or whatever and a news organization like ABC having a policy of faking things.” Arledge said the error provided “a field day, particularly for deposed ex-network news presidents who, generally speaking, have nothing to do and so they leap into print at the first opportunity without ever checking anything.” He named Fred Friendly and Richard Salant, former heads of CBS News, and Larry Grossman, former NBC News chief, and said “ABC News does not need lectures from people like that.”