ABC News suspended one of its veteran correspondents late Tuesday for unguarded remarks he made in a video by operatives of Project Veritas, the conservative group that records “undercover” footage of mainstream journalists to bolster its accusations of media bias.
The network disciplined David Wright, who reports for ABC’s signature news programs, including “World News Tonight,” “Good Morning America” and “Nightline,” several peple confirmed late Tuesday.
The choppy, poorly shot video, released Wednesday morning by Project Veritas, captured Wright on what appeared to be a hidden camera, seeming to complain in general terms about political coverage.
“I don’t think we’re terribly interested in voters,” he said, echoing gripes about the superficiality of some aspects of White House and campaign coverage that have been raised by journalists for decades. Also: “Commercial imperative is incompatible with news.”
At one point he says, “We don’t hold him him to account. We also don’t give him credit for what things he does do.” In subtitles, Project Veritas indicated that “him” stood for President Donald Trump. He refers to Trump at another point as “the f—— president.”
But ABC likely was also alarmed at Wright’s criticism of ABC News, which is owned by the Disney Co. At another point, he raises another longstanding critique of ABC News – that it blends news with promotion of Disney-owned movies and TV programs.
“Like now you can’t watch ‘Good Morning America’ without there being a Disney princess or a Marvel Avenger appearing,” he says. “It’s all self-promotional.”
In a statement Wednesday, ABC News said, “Any action that damages our reputation for fairness and impartiality or gives the appearance of compromising it harms ABC News and the individuals involved. David Wright has been suspended, and to avoid any possible appearance of bias, he will be reassigned away from political coverage when he returns.”
In the video, which the group said was taken while Wright covered the New Hampshire primary, a voice asks the reporter if he considers himself “a Democratic socialist,” and Wright seems to reply, “more than that, I consider myself a socialist.”
Wright didn’t respond to several requests for comment Tuesday.
Project Veritas’ founder, James O’Keefe, teased the release of the video on Twitter on Tuesday with the hashtag #ExposeABC. He tweeted that his group “will expose ABC News’ agenda to mislead voters and push their own narratives” and said in response to the upcoming release that ABC News had suspended “the correspondent involved.” He didn’t identify Wright or provide details.
Wright, 56, is one of ABC’s most seasoned and versatile correspondents, having joined the network nearly 20 years ago. He has covered the White House and was “Nightline’s” lead political reporter during the 2016 presidential campaign. He has also periodically reported from the Middle East and Europe, including covering the Notre Dame cathedral fire in Paris last year. He shared a 2004 Emmy Award for his reporting from Iraq and shared a Peabody Award for reporting in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Project Veritas conducts undercover “stings” of journalists and others it considers allied with liberal causes or organizations. Its operatives often befriend the organization’s targets using aliases and lull them into casual conversations in bars or restaurants that are then surreptitiously recorded. The videos are edited and released publicly in an effort to show what O’Keefe calls liberal bias or allegedly corrupt practices.
Although O’Keefe has defended the organization’s methods as journalistically sound, mainstream news organizations have largely abandoned the practice of infiltrating businesses or organizations to record video without a subject’s knowledge or consent. News organizations generally consider the practice deceptive, and doing so can subject them to criminal trespass penalties.
O’Keefe’s group has targeted media organizations such as CNN, NPR and the New York Times, as well as Democratic political operatives.
The Washington Post was the target of a Project Veritas sting in 2017 when a woman, later identified as Jaime Phillips, approached a Post reporter with allegedly damaging information about Roy Moore, then a Senate candidate in Alabama. The Post discovered the woman’s apparent affiliation with Project Veritas and that her story was a hoax. The Post recorded video as she attempted to plant the false story.
ABC, coincidentally, was involved in perhaps the most famous case involving undercover video. The Food Lion supermarket chain sued ABC in 1996 after it aired a segment about unsanitary practices at the stores on “PrimeTime Live.” To get footage for the story, two ABC News producers obtained jobs at Food Lion stores using false references and altered work histories. An appeals court eventually rejected Food Lion’s fraud claims but upheld a jury’s $2 award for breach of loyalty and trespass.