From AJR, June 1999 issue
Not a Black Hat Kind of Guy
By Alicia C. Shepard
Alicia C. Shepard is a former AJR senior writer and NPR ombudsman.
DALTON DELAN THE PERSON says he doesn't recognize the Dalton Delan portrayed in news stories, the man who supposedly beheaded "Washington Week in Review" host Ken Bode because Delan wanted more attitude and edge on every policy wonk's favorite talk show.
"Anyone who knows me knows it was particularly ironic to see me wearing the black hat," Delan says. "I've only spent 20 years going in the other direction."
Delan, 44, took over in November as executive vice president and chief programming officer for WETA, PBS' flagship station in the nation's capital. Before that, he served as creative director and vice president of programming for the Sundance Channel, director of documentary programming at Home Box Office and on ABC News' "Closeup" documentary unit.
Within three months of Delan's arrival, Bode was gone.
While Delan says the press coverage of the Bode brouhaha was flawed, he won't discuss specifics. "I don't want to rehash the personnel matter that unfortunately played out in the press," he says. He won't address Bode's contention that Delan wanted the show to feature more edge.
Delan says there will be changes at "Washington Week," but they will be subtle. "Every show is constantly being made the best it can be, but still adhering to its essence," he says. "In the years Ken Bode was moderator, video and remotes were introduced. It's probably true that I've slightly cut back on those. But this is a program that doesn't need a wholesale change. But it needs to continue to be on the top of its game. You don't toy with a franchise of this caliber."
So what's different so far? "I think we are telling fewer stories, but telling them more deeply," he says. "The program with Paul Duke as [temporary] moderator is ever so slightly different. It's probably in a direction I would like to continue, one of standing against the quick news clutter in the marketplace and distinguishing itself by being the place where reason, analysis and peeling back the onion behind the news goes on." This, of course, is what "Washington Week" has been known for.
Asked if he was surprised by the outpouring of support for Bode, Delan says he was more surprised by the news reports themselves, "since it wasn't the news happening at the program."
In the end, he takes a sanguine attitude toward the contretemps. "Whatever this was," he says, "at least it got the conversation going about what are the values we are all looking for in public television.