Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Newscaster Feuding with Newspapers

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Newscaster Feuding with Newspapers

Article excerpt

ABC NEWSCASTER SAM Donaldson claims he's been victimized by the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and "ABC World News Tonight" in stories about his three ranches in New Mexico.

Donaldson has collected $97,000 in federal sheep and mohair subsidies during the past two years on the 18,000 acres he owns in Hondo, N.M.

The story of Donaldson's farm subsidies was broken on March 16 by Bruce Ingersoll of the Journal.

It has brought Donaldson waves of unwanted press attention from critics who see him as a multimillion-dollar hypocrite for accepting subsidies even as he attacks them.

"I'm not someone from Mars who doesn't understand the news business Donaldson steamed in one of three telephone interviews.

"I don't welcome this kind of publicity. Hey, I'd be a fool to say, spell my name right. I don't subscribe to that. I know the cycle. First the papers, then the wires, then the magazines. Will the books be far behind?"

The ABC news co-anchor of "Prime Time Live" has been upset by the media criticism because he has crusaded on the air against the farm subsidies. Wolper, professor of journalism at the Newark campus of Rutgers University, covers campus journalism for E&P.

"I am considered a traitor by many people in New Mexico because of my position," Donaldson said. "I think the subsidies ought to be eliminated and phased out."

Donaldson, who news reports say is paid $2 million a year from ABC, believes well-to-do farmers like himself should not be eligible for the subsidies.

"Something like that should be means-tested, as I have said on the air," he continued.

Donaldson brought Vice President Al Gore on "Prime Time Live" two years ago, in a segment that was highly critical of farm subsidies.

"I didn't say I owned a ranch, but I asked Gore, `How do you feel about subsidies?'" he recalled. "We showed pictures of sheep. And Gore denounced the subsidies. "

He explained that his contract with ABC specifically prohibits his doing "original reporting" on agriculture, but he is permitted to comment on farming issues.

"The public is sophisticated," Donaldson noted. "They know the difference between news and commentary."

Newscaster David Brinkley, according to Donaldson, raised the question of Donaldson's participation in the subsidy program a year ago on a Sunday-morning talk show.

"David said, `You take subsidies, don't you?" and I said, `Yes, I do,'" the newscaster recalled. "It's not a dark secret that I've been hiding under a rock. I'm not in ranching to get rich. That is not why anyone goes into ranching."

Donaldson acknowledged, however, that he has never disclosed how much federal money he and his family have received from their extensive ranch and farm holdings.

The television newscaster, whose caustic journalistic attacks have won him admirers and detractors, believes he was singled out by the media because of his television fame.

Donaldson and the Post

The ABC newscaster was incensed at the Post for sending two reporters to his New Mexico ranch to see if it was a bona fide operation or a tax dodge.

The newspaper then published a satirical story about how the writers were kicked off the ranch after mimicking some of the ambush interviewing techniques they allege Donaldson uses on "Prime Time Live."

Donaldson wondered why the newspaper didn't go after the other city dwellers who were found to own substantial amounts of farm land.

"You didn't see the New York Post sending reporters to the ranches of the people from Dallas or New Orleans who got these subsidies," Donaldson complained.

The ABC newsman gave his foreman permission to call the sheriff to chase away Post reporters who drove up to his ranch.

"They claimed they were my friends and wanted to take pictures of my house," Donaldson said. "I could just see the headlines -- `Built by Taxpayers' Money. …

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