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Nearly five years after its purchase of ABC, the Disney Company made
history in late March by subjecting a confused 6-year-old boy to a
preposterous "interview." For ABC News superstar Diane Sawyer, it was all
in a day's work. But former viewers of the Mickey Mouse Club had good
reason to cringe. Whatever his failings, Mickey never engaged in such
flagrant child abuse on national television.

For three days, "Good Morning America" featured excerpts from Sawyer's
visit with Elian Gonzalez, a traumatized child whose departure from Cuba
several months ago ended with a shipwreck that killed his mother. Sawyer
sat on the floor with little Elian and eased into questions about whether
he'd rather live in Cuba or Florida. The footage, repackaged for ABC's
"20/20" show, was all grist for the ABC/Disney profit mill.

Many psychiatrists, pediatricians and other specialists in children's
health strongly criticized the faux interview as damaging to the small boy.
The spectacle was even too much for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a hardliner
against the Castro regime, who called the televised sessions "inexcusable"
and said: "It breaks my heart to see a 6-year-old child on TV being
interviewed about things that he has no idea what's going on."

So why did Diane Sawyer -- and other bigshots at ABC/Disney -- insist on
carrying out the scheme? For the same reasons that they pursue so many of
their projects: Arrogance. Self-promotion. And greed.

As it happens, Sawyer's latest efforts are in line with longstanding
political proclivities. For eight years that included the bitter end of his
presidency, she worked as an assistant to Richard Nixon. "She had not only
been a Nixon aide but a Nixon loyalist of the highest order," wrote author
Peter Boyer. "When Nixon finally resigned in disgrace, she was one of the
faithful on the plane that took Nixon on his long journey to exile at San

In her 22 years as a national TV news star, Sawyer has been quite
selective with her compassion. On ABC's "PrimeTime Live," she has excelled
at portraying people on welfare as rip-off artists. In a September 1992
report on "welfare fraud," she lambasted "a system that entices people to
break the rules and gouge the taxpayers." The multimillionaire anchor
chided a single mother for working off-the-books to supplement a monthly
welfare check of $600 so that her combined income could total $16,700 a
year. The same lengthy report aired again on the network a year later.

ABC News seems fond of such reportage. Last year, on Feb. 17, Sawyer
introduced the "20/20" lead story this way: "You may have thought with
welfare reform that your taxpayer dollars were finally going only to the
truly needy. But as you are about to discover, you are wrong." Co-anchor
Sam Donaldson chimed in: "Just wait until you see the lush lifestyles of
the welfare recipients chief correspondent Chris Wallace tracked down in
his investigation."

A few months later, on July 26, ABC reporter John Stossel eagerly mocked
people on workfare for expressing unhappiness with dead-end jobs paying
$4.75 an hour. Stossel devoted a "20/20" segment to condemning their bad
attitudes and finally exclaimed: "Give me a break!"

While the highest-paid correspondents at ABC News seem glad to ferret out
malfeasance and shirkers among America's poor, they have shown little
investigative zeal in reporting on their own employer.

At this moment, thousands of people are working in abysmal sweatshops to
manufacture products for the corporation that owns ABC. At the C & H Lanka
factory in Sri Lanka, for instance, women are paid 16 cents an hour to make
Disney toys. The usual shift is 12 hours a day. But "it is not uncommon for
the women to be locked in the factory and forced to work through the night
and into the next day -- putting in a 36-hour shift," reports the National
Labor Committee, a human rights group based in New York. "Workers are not
allowed to drink water while on the job. They are fined two days pay for

The committee has documented other grim realities at the Sri Lanka
factory, which produces cuddly stuffed toys for Disney. Union members and
organizers "have been threatened, demoted, have had their pay withheld, and
have been viciously beaten, fined and imprisoned."

Meanwhile, in China, workers at many factories are assembling numerous
Disney products under atrocious conditions. Charles Kernaghan, executive
director of the committee, sent a detailed six-page letter to Disney CEO
Michael Eisner on March 4, 1999. But Disney has refused to take corrective

We may be surprised to see Diane Sawyer and ABC News stoop to child abuse
in the case of Elian Gonzalez. But they're only adhering to Disney company
policy -- doing what they can to generate profits from other people's misery.


Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His latest book is "The Habits of
Highly Deceptive Media."


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