Good Morning America: Sex and Sweeps

It's a television producer's dream – a sex scandal that coincides perfectly with the start of the May ratings sweeps period – and ABC's Good Morning America is making the best of this harmonious convergence, which appears to have been created by ABC News. 

The weekend resignation of Randall Tobias, Deputy Secretary of State, has put the story back into the headlines.  Tobias resigned after being asked by ABC News whether he was a customer of the “D.C. Madam's” escort service.

GMA opened the Monday April 30 broadcast (and the start of the May sweeps period) with the “call girl controversy …that could take down some of the nation's most powerful men.”

The “controversy” refers to the case of Deborah Jeane Palfrey, now known as the “D.C. Madam,” who is under investigation for running a prostitution ring that allegedly catered to many of Washington D.C.'s rich and famous. 

ABC is in the ratings driver's seat because Palfrey provided ABC investigative reporter Brian Ross with four years of her company's phone records.  In the first minutes of Monday's GMA, Ross indicated that his team was “going through the phone records for the last four years provided by Jeane Palfrey, double-checking the names, and there are very prominent people, lobbyists, lawyers, members of the military, other people in the Bush administration.”

But ABC has had this list for some time.  Portions of the list have also been posted on Palfrey's Web site, according to The New York Times.  One wonders whether ABC's “double-checking of names” is conveniently wrapping up as the ratings period begins. 

GMA anchor Robin Roberts added to the sweeps hype, telling Ross that the GMA audience would be hearing from him “all week” and that he would have a “full hour this week on 20/20.”  Because no other news outlets have access to the phone records, ABC can dribble out the information as slowly as it wants, stretching the life of the story over the coming days – maybe just enough days in May to give ABC a ratings lead over its competitors.

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer for the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.