ABC News hammering out Palin plans

Interview likely to take place Thursday and Friday

NEW YORK -- It took ABC News more time to try to assemble the logistics of its exclusive interview with GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin than it did negotiating with the McCain campaign itself.

ABC News had most of the details locked down Friday night, when anchor Charles Gibson was in Los Angeles for the Stand Up to Cancer benefit telethon. But the challenges of traveling to Alaska -- and, more important, bringing a network-news infrastructure there for the interview and two nights of "World News" -- has taken into the early part of the week to arrange.

Even as late as midday Monday, it wasn't clear when Gibson would leave for Alaska and the exact schedule. It's likely he'll leave Wednesday for the trip, and interview Palin several times Thursday and Friday. The interviews will take place in two cities in Alaska, though exactly where hasn't been announced.

The first parts of the interview could air as early as Thursday's "World News" as well as that night's "Nightline" and Friday's "Good Morning America." But it will be a rush, "World News" executive producer Jon Banner said Monday morning.

"The time change is a challenge, to say the least," Banner said. "We're on at 2:30 in the afternoon (Alaska time)."

The network said it couldn't yet commit to a primetime hour for the Palin interview, though it's likely that a special edition of "20/20" or "Primetime" with Palin would likely be a ratings winner given how well last Wednesday's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention did in the ratings.

It's fair to say that every network, broadcast and cable, was clamoring for the first interview with Palin. NBC was believed to have no shot because the McCain campaign is extremely upset with the network for MSNBC's treatment of the governor. But ABC News execs said it had less to do with that and more to do with Gibson's reputation as a straight shooter.

"Charlie is very tough but very fair (as an interviewer), and that's probably the reason," Banner said. "But you'd have to ask the campaign." Gibson last week did a hard-hitting but also fair interview with McCain last week, the candidate's only during the Republican National Convention.

ABC News president David Westin said Monday that Gibson has an advantage over other journalists.

"He has covered politics for essentially his entire life," Westin said. "He knows politics. He loves politics. It's in his blood."

Banner received a call from Steve Schmidt, the McCain campaign's senior adviser, around 3:15 p.m. PT offering the interview while Banner and Gibson were in Los Angeles for the cancer telethon. That was just before the 6:30 p.m. ET "World News" telecast. Gibson spoke to Schmidt right after the newscast to talk details.

Gibson wasn't available for comment Monday, but Banner said there were no preconditions to the Palin interview.

"There are no restrictions. All questions are on the table," he said Monday. "But we haven't had those discussions" about possible questions yet.

Westin said there were no "extensive" negotiations between the campaign and ABC News over the interview and no substantive discussions about the content.
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