ABC News suspends veteran correspondent over comments captured in undercover Project Veritas video

William Cummings, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – ABC News confirmed Wednesday that it has suspended veteran correspondent David Wright for comments he made in a hidden camera video shared by the conservative group Project Veritas. 

In the video, Wright is critical of news media coverage of President Donald Trump, calls himself a socialist, and expresses frustration with the conflicts he sees between the goals of journalism and the corporate profit motive.

"Any action that damages our reputation for fairness and impartiality or gives the appearance of compromising it harms ABC News and the individuals involved," an ABC News spokesperson said in a statement. "David Wright has been suspended, and to avoid any possible appearance of bias, he will be reassigned away from political coverage when he returns." 

Project Veritas, founded by self-described "guerrilla journalist" James O'Keefe, is known for conducting undercover "sting" operations aimed at discrediting the news media and liberal groups. Using video – which critics say is selectively edited – the organization claims to expose media bias and hidden left-wing agendas. 

According to the group, Wright made the comments at a hotel bar in Manchester, New Hampshire, while covering the Democratic primary. 

"I feel like the truth suffers, the voters are poorly informed," Wright says in the video. "Our bosses don't see an upside in doing what we're supposed to do, which is to speak truth to power and hold people to account."  

When asked whether Wright considers himself a democratic socialist, Wright says, "Oh yeah." 

"More than that, I would consider myself a socialist," he says. "I think there are too many billionaires, and I think that there's a wealth gap. That's a problem." 

ABC is owned by the Walt Disney Company. Wright said the network's news division "became a profit center" and a "promotion center."

"You can't watch 'Good Morning America' without there being a Disney Princess or Marvel Avenger appearing," Wright said. "It's all self-promotional. And promotion of the company, and also promotion of individuals within the company, as opposed to the kind of dedication to the story, and a commitment to telling stories that we need to tell that are maybe hard to tell.

"The commercial imperative is incompatible with news."

Wright said ABC News and other networks are interested in only three things about Trump: "the outrage of the day, the investigation and the palace intrigue of who's backstabbing whom." 

"Beyond that, we don't really cover the guy," he said. 

Wright was also frustrated with coverage of the 2020 election, which he said focused too much on the "horse race" and "the candidate of the week." 

"I don't think we're terribly interested in the voters," Wright said. 

In another portion of the video, Wright speaks about his frustration with someone Project Vertias' captions say was Trump, though Wright does not refer to the president by name in the edited clips. 

Project Veritas: Trump slams CNN after group publishes undercover video

"We're not disciplined enough to cut him off. And we second-guess ourselves because we're sensitive to the accusation that we're in the tank for the Democrats," he said. "It feels like every time we take the bait on the outrage we enable him." 

"Why don't you like him?" a woman asks off camera. 

"Because he's a dick," Wright replies. 

Wright has been with ABC News for nearly two decades. According to his bio page on the network's site, he has reported for ABC News from six continents, winning an Emmy in 2004 for his work from Iraq, another Emmy in 2005 for reporting on genocide in Darfur and a Peabody Award for his reporting from Afghanistan after 9/11. 

Project Veritas' techniques have been attacked by critics as deceptive and unethical. In 2010, the year he launched the group, O'Keefe, pleaded guilty to entering federal property under false pretenses, a misdemeanor, after being arrested in a plan to access then-Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu's office. 

In 2017, a Project Veritas operative tried to convince The Washington Post to publish a false sexual assault allegation against former Alabama Judge Roy Moore, who faced a series of such accusations that year amid his run as a Republican candidate in a special election for the U.S. Senate. 

The Post did not publish the woman's story after finding it contained inconsistencies and then uncovered her ties to Project Veritas.

Trump praised O'Keefe at a White House "social media summit" in July. 

"He’s not controversial, he’s truthful," Trump said. 

ABC News producer Andy Fies was also featured in the Project Veritas video making comments critical of the 2020 election coverage, but the network has not announced any discipline against him. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Project Veritas video leads ABC News to suspend reporter David Wright