NEW YORK — Before airing George Stephanopoulos’ interview with former FBI Director James Comey, ABC News made the unusual decision of releasing a full transcript of its nearly five-hour talk, including all the material that was not included in the broadcast.
ABC News President James Goldston said in an interview Monday that it was an important example of transparency, and that it had paid off with the transcript becoming by far the most popular item on ABC News’ website.
Comey's interview, the first on the media tour to promote his book “A Higher Loyalty,” was seen by 9.8 million viewers on Sunday night, the Nielsen company said. That's a good number for the network, which reached 3.6 million viewers in the same time slot the week before with the drama “Deception.”
It was less than half of the 22 million people who watched adult film star Stormy Daniels talk on “60 Minutes” last month about her alleged affair with President Donald Trump, which he denies. Comey probably would have drawn more viewers if he gave his first interview to “60 Minutes”; the CBS show reached 10.4 million people on Sunday. But Comey reportedly sought more time on the air for his first interview, and ABC offered the full hour.
Trump was apparently one of his viewers — at least for awhile — as Comey described his contacts with the president and said Trump lacked the moral authority to be president. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump had seen “bits and pieces of it.”
“We didn't learn anything new,” Sanders said.
Comey is on a media tour to promote his book that will include interviews by Jake Tapper of CNN, Judy Woodruff of PBS, Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, Bret Baier of Fox News Channel and appearances on Stephen Colbert's late-night show, “The View” and a CNN town hall.
But Stephanopoulos was first. The network released the full transcript of its interview with Comey when the show began airing.
Goldston said the decision to post the transcript was made after it was clear the network didn't have enough time to broadcast all of the material from the interview.
“We thought we had an obligation to put everything out there and let people look at it and decide,” he said. “It's a part of modern journalism.”
The decision could make ABC vulnerable to criticism from people who might not have liked the network's choices about what deserved to be on television and what didn't. But Goldston said it could have the opposite effect of insulating the network.
“We don't have anything to hide here,” he said. It could prevent people from asking “why didn't you ask this, when we knew we had asked the question.”
It was a lot of material to digest. CNN's Chris Cillizza jokingly tweeted that he had just gone through the entire transcript line-by-line, and accompanied it with a video of a man collapsing from exhaustion.
Al Tompkins, a broadcast news specialist at the Poynter Institute, said it was an unusual decision for a network, since journalism is largely about editing. In this case, seeing the full interview makes it easier to understand the context in which certain questions were asked and answered.
“I sure don't see a downside to it,” Tompkins said.
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