‘GMA,’ ‘Today’ in Skirmish Over Ashley Smith Interview

Mar 14, 2005  •  Post A Comment

A booking skirmish between Monday morning news shows over Ashley Smith, the heroine hostage who convinced Atlanta courthouse killing suspect Brian Nichols to surrender, resulted in ABC’s “Good Morning America” losing what started out as an exclusive live interview.

According to multiple sources, “GMA” felt it had booked with Ms. Smith directly a live, exclusive interview for its first half-hour. However, NBC’s “Today,” working through an attorney for Ms. Smith, arranged to tape an interview with Ms. Smith at 6:15 a.m. When “Today” and Ms. Smith’s attorney arrived at the appointed interview site, they learned that a “GMA” car has arrived and whisked her to the ABC bureau in Atlanta at about 5 a.m.

The lawyer canceled the “GMA” interview and refused to reinstate it.

“Today” then conducted a live interview in the second half-hour of the show with Ms. Smith, by then on a street corner not far from the courthouse and parking structure where the killing spree took place Friday morning.

A “GMA” associate producer identified as Mike Nagel was seen pacing and shouting into a cellphone in the background during “Today’s” interview with Ms. Smith. Mr. Nagel eventually was removed from the “Today” camera’s view — at one point being handcuffed on one arm — but he was not arrested, according to a “GMA” spokeswoman.

No sooner had “Today” finished its interview with Ms. Smith than similar interviews were conducted in quick succession in the same area by “The Early Show” on CBS and “Fox & Friends” on Fox News Channel.

At ABC News, the position was that “GMA” was unaware that Ms. Smith’s lawyer booked any other interviews and that what transpired was a result of “an unfortunate misunderstanding.”

“‘Good Morning America’ is blessed to have a top-notch staff of aggressive producers. Unfortunately, things got heated over a misunderstanding this morning,” said a statement from “GMA.” “It has been resolved and we are moving forward to tomorrow’s show. We can certainly understand why the ‘Today’ show is so busy calling this around as we’re sure it takes focus off of ‘GMA’s’ terrific sweep performance, in which we closed the gap to its smallest margin since May of 1996.”

At NBC News, however, the feeling is that the competition for a prized guest rose to levels “beyond the pale.”