Friday, December 24, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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ABC Dumps Bill Kristol As It Deals With Sagging `This Week'

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON - ABC executives, worried about sinking ratings as Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts fall behind Tim Russert's "Meet the Press" on NBC, are starting to overhaul the once-mighty "This Week."

The first victim is Bill Kristol, a conservative presence for three years on the shoot-the-breeze Sunday round table. The Weekly Standard editor taped his last show Wednesday after being told that his contract would not be renewed.

The axing of Kristol comes three months after the departure of the show's executive producer, Dorrance Smith, who, like Kristol, worked in the Bush White House. Several sources confirmed that contrary to the public announcement at the time, Smith was forced out by ABC News President David Westin, who has had an increasingly strong hand in the program.

Smith said Kristol "added a much-needed different perspective from a conservative viewpoint, which I don't think they have any interest in trying to fill. They're tone-deaf when it comes to political evenhandedness. . . . Rather than being journalistically honest, they're much more comfortable with people who share viewpoints closer to their own," he said of ABC management.

Westin said that "over time we have an obligation to our viewers to make sure we present both sides of any issue." While no one's previous employment should be held against him, he said, "we shouldn't have executive producers who have identifiable alliances either way."

Smith, a friend of Linda Tripp from their days in the Bush White House, has told friends that he believes ABC management was displeased with some of the reporting he helped provide during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

The larger problem for ABC is that "This Week" has lost 25 percent of its audience since David Brinkley, who founded the Washington-based program with Smith in 1981, retired three years ago.

During the November ratings sweeps, NBC's "Meet the Press" had 4.1 million viewers, "This Week" had 2.8 million and CBS's "Face the Nation" was closing in with 2.5 million.

"The program is not where we want it to be," Westin acknowledged. "That's not anybody's fault on the program."

ABC had asked Kristol to stay on through January and make occasional appearances after that, but he told management Wednesday that he had fulfilled his contract, which expires next week. Kristol was added at the same time as George Stephanopoulos, the former Clinton White House aide whose contract was recently renewed. The pair provided Democratic and Republican voices along with those of Donaldson, Roberts and George Will.

"I've enjoyed every Sunday of it," Kristol said. "I wish Sam and Cokie and the guys here in Washington all the best.

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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