TV Critic Tom Shales Says ABC Profiting Off Robin Roberts' Illness

Robin Roberts on GMA August 27 - P 2012
ABC/Fred Lee

Robin Roberts on GMA August 27 - P 2012

UPDATED: The network has turned the host's "very serious illness" into "a huge promotional opportunity for 'GMA,'" he writes.

Tom Shales, the cantankerous TV critic (formerly of The Washington Post), has turned a disdainful eye towards ABC's Good Morning America, saying the show is promoting host Robin Roberts' battle with cancer as a ratings ploy.

In a guest column posted yesterday to Roger Ebert's Chicago Sun-Times blog entitled "Good Morning, Muppets," Shales lays into the morning show, saying what was once a "respectable informational program" has now become "as newsy ... as Here Comes Honey Boo Boo."

STORY: Robin Roberts Announces Early Departure From 'Good Morning America' 

But his harshest words come for what he considers to be GMA's opportunistic handling of Roberts' battle with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), or preleukemia, for which she recently underwent a bone marrow transplant with her sister acting as donor.

"Now we come to Something That Must Be Said," Shales writes. "It may have been said elsewhere already, but just in case, here goes: ABC has managed to turn the very serious illness of co-anchor Roberts into a huge promotional opportunity for GMA."

"On every edition of GMA, there are shout-outs, warm wishes and detailed reports pertaining to Roberts' condition," he says. "She has been seen in remotes from the hospital, and the sympathetic outpourings of viewers have been heavily documented."

STORY: Robin Roberts Leaving 'Good Morning America' for Bone Marrow Transplant on Friday 

"Roberts was seen in a recorded message thanking viewers: 'I feel the love and I thank you for it.' ABC rushed out a press release, this one headlined 'Robin Roberts' Message: I Feel the Love and I Thank You For It' and including a disclaimer: 'News organizations using material from this report should credit Good Morning, America. "

The ratings have been strong since Roberts' departure: GMA has been Number One in the adults 25-54 demo since she began her medical leave on Aug. 31, and have been steadily gaining total viewers.

In response to the column, ABC News senior VP Jeffrey Schneider tells TV Newser, “To be clear, we are keeping faith with our viewers, who are deeply interested in Robin’s journey. We are also mindful that Robin derives great strength from the overwhelming outpouring of love. That Tom wouldn’t understand is no surprise around here.”

STORY: Robin Roberts' Mother Dies at 88 

Shales has a history of taking sharp aim at ABC News programs, once going so far as to call out This Week host Christiane Amanpour for being too inclusive in her language introducing a weekly In Memoriam segment, which she dedicated to "all those who died in war."

"Did she mean to suggest that our mourning extend to members of the Taliban?" he wrote.

A request to ABC News for comment was not immediately answered.