In the aftermath of a U.S. air strike in Pakistan targeting Osama bin Laden's righthand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, ABC's World News Tonight played up Pakistani anger at America over the operation on its Saturday January 14 show. Anchor Dan Harris prominently featured Pakistani "outrage and condemnation" at the attack and introduced reporter John Yang's piece on the subject intoning that "there is most definitely a reaction in Pakistan, and it's an angry one." ABC also downplayed the importance of killing the senior al-Qaeda member, with Yang calling a potential kill a "largely symbolic victory."
With the words "Attack Condemned" featured on-screen, Harris teased the January 14 show: "Taking aim at al-Qaeda's number two man: The U.S. government doesn't know yet whether it hit its target, but in Pakistan tonight, this attack is provoking outrage and condemnation." After leading with a story on the CDC's warning on drug-resistant flu strains, Harris set up reporter John Yang to focus on Pakistani anger toward the U.S., ending his introduction by noting that "there is most definitely a reaction in Pakistan, and it's an angry one." While Harris read his introduction, the words "Attack Condemned" again appeared, this time in the background, above a photograph of targeted al-Qaeda leader Zawahiri.
Yang led his piece by relaying that "thousands of tribesmen gathered to protest the air strike." He also noted that the Pakistani prime minister complained to the U.S. ambassador and to Senator John Kerry, who were both visiting the country, and translated a clip of the prime minister saying, "We are saddened by the loss of life. We strongly condemn this." By contrast, on the same night's NBC Nightly News, reporter Jim Miklaszewski balanced his coverage of Pakistani anger by relaying to the audience that "U.S. officials tell NBC News the Pakistani government approved the air strikes."
Returning to ABC, after Yang finished his piece, Harris posed the question: "John, if they actually got Zawahiri, how big a victory would that be really in the war on terror?"
Yang downplayed Zawahiri's importance: "The terrorist officials I've been talking to today say that it would largely be a symbolic victory. They say that al-Qaeda really is not playing a major role anymore. More of its role has gone to offshoot groups. And so taking him out of the loop really would not significantly lower the threat of terrorism."
By contrast, NBC and CBS played up Zawahiri's value as a target by discussing his prominence in the al-Qaeda organization. NBC's Miklaszewski contended that "his death could deal a serious blow to the organization." On Saturday's CBS Evening News, anchor Russ Mitchell interviewed terrorism analyst Neil Livingstone, who argued that killing Zawahiri would be "one of the greatest victories to date in the war against terrorism."
Below are complete transcripts of the aforementioned stories from the January 14 World News Tonight on ABC, the CBS Evening News, and the NBC Nightly News, with key portions highlighted in bold:
January 14 World News Tonight:
Dan Harris, in opening teaser, with the words "Attack Condemned" on-screen: "Taking aim at al-Qaeda's number two man: The U.S. government doesn't know yet whether it hit its target, but in Pakistan tonight, this attack is provoking outrage and condemnation."
After leading with a story on the CDC's warning on drug-resistant flu strains, Harris introduced John Yang's story while displayed behind him were the words "Attack Condemned" above a photograph of Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Harris continued: "And now to the attempt to take out the second most powerful man in al-Qaeda. Government sources say the U.S. launched an air strike yesterday against Ayman al-Zawahiri in a remote and rugged region of Pakistan right near the Afghan border. There is no confirmation they actually got him, but tonight, there is most definitely a reaction in Pakistan, and it's an angry one. ABC's John Yang is on the story."
John Yang: "Today, thousands of tribesmen gathered to protest the air strike. They even set fire to the offices of a U.S.-backed aid agency. The Pakistani prime minister registered his dismay in a meeting with the U.S. ambassador and Senator John Kerry, in Pakistan to visit earthquake relief operations."
Translating for Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, Yang continued: "'We are saddened,' he said, 'by the loss of life. We strongly condemn this.' The early morning attack flattened houses and other buildings in the mountains near the border with Afghanistan. At least 18 people were killed."
Translating for a young Pakistani girl, Yang continued: "'There were two big noises,' she said. 'The whole family ran toward a small mountain.' U.S. and Pakistani government sources tell ABC News they're 'hopeful' that Osama bin Laden's top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is among the dead, though some Pakistani officials are skeptical he was there. The attack was a one-two punch: The small, unmanned aircraft with laser-guided missiles often used in these kind of air strikes and, this time, jet fighters, too."
Richard Clarke, ABC News Consultant: "What was unusual was that multiple predators were used in this attack. And then F-16s were brought in to ensure that no one survived."
Yang: "It was the third U.S. air strike in a month in a mountainous region of Pakistan beyond Pakistani control. The hunt for bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders has focused there for more than a year."
Gretchen Peters, ABC News: "This is a particularly conservative and tribal area with very deep loyalties to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. It's known, for example, that this area raised more than 10,000 soldiers in the weeks after 9/11 to go and fight against American troops who were coming to Afghanistan to topple the Taliban government."
Yang: "Government sources tell ABC News that tissue samples from some of those killed in the attack are being brought back to the United States for DNA analysis. It'll be several days, Dan, before officials know just who they got in this attack?"
Harris: "John, if they actually got Zawahiri, how big a victory would that be really in the war on terror?"
Yang: "The terrorist officials I've been talking to today say that it would largely be a symbolic victory. They say that al-Qaeda really is not playing a major role anymore. More of its role has gone to offshoot groups. And so taking him out of the loop really would not significantly lower the threat of terrorism."
Harris: "A symbolic victory, but one that people at the Pentagon would be happy to have. John, thank you. That's John Yang reporting from the Pentagon tonight."
January 14 CBS Evening News:
Russ Mitchell, in opening teaser: "Good evening. I'm Russ Mitchell. Osama bin Laden's number two man apparently eludes a U.S. missile attack that kills at least 17 people in a Pakistani village. That's our starting point tonight. And we'll have these stories."
Mitchell, introducing the lead story: "There is word tonight that Osama bin Laden's second in command may have literally dodged a bullet. Yesterday, U.S. officials hoped that Ayman al-Zawahiri was one of at least 17 people killed in an air strike in Pakistan. Today, Pakistani officials said Zawahiri was not among those killed, and while there have been reports that DNA tests will be conducted, U.S. officials tell CBS News this evening they're not sure if there's anything to test. Richard Roth has the latest."
Richard Roth: "Villagers near the border with Afghanistan said there had been the sound of patrolling aircraft, not unusual in the region where the U.S. believes al-Qaeda fugitives find sanctuary. Then came the thunder of explosions. American missiles destroyed three houses and killed at least 18 people, including women and children, but U.S. officials now tell CBS News the target of the air strike, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was probably not among them. Pakistan says the raid was based on bad intelligence and that Zawahiri wasn't even in the village. Called Osama bin Laden's mentor, the Egyptian-born Zawahiri has increasingly become the public face of al-Qaeda, urging attacks on America. In a video broadcast a week ago, he said the U.S. should admit defeat in Iraq. America has put a $25 million bounty on his head, but Pakistan's furious that American aircraft, said to include a pilotless drone, crossed its border to target him. U.S. forces in Afghanistan are denied permission to chase militants across the border. Pakistan condemned the raid in public, and called in America's ambassador to complain in private. It's the second time in just a week that Pakistan says the U.S. has launched attacks on Pakistani territory and taken civilian lives. Pending the outcome of forensic tests, U.S. officials say there's still a chance Zawahiri was killed, but it's minuscule, which would leave his whereabouts tonight, like Osama bin Laden's, still a mystery. Russ?"
Mitchell: "Richard, I know you've spoken to a lot of folks over there today. Is anyone saying what specifically prompted the raid?"
Roth: "Not directly. Pakistani officials are speaking vaguely of a foreign presence, which is their way of conceding al-Qaeda militants may have been sheltered there. The Pakistanis themselves have gone after foreign fighters in that village less than two years ago, and there are reports there was to have been a dinner, a religious feast, in the village this week, to which Zawahiri may have been invited. But one Pakistani source says the dinner was held a night before the raid."
Mitchell: "Richard Roth in London, thank you. For more on Ayman al-Zawahiri and his role in al-Qaeda, we now turn to Neil Livingstone, the CEO of Global Options, an anti-terrorism consulting group based in Washington, D.C. And Mr. Livingstone, at this point, it looks like another one got away, but do you at all see any silver lining in this for the United States?"
Neil Livingstone, Terrorism Analyst: "Well, I think there are a couple of silver linings, the first being that we probably nearly got him, and the more that we force these guys to look over their shoulder and expect a predator shooting hellfire missiles at them, the less time they're going to have to plan attacks against us."
Mitchell: "Of course, Zawahiri is reported to be Osama bin Laden's chief deputy. What else makes him such a high-value target in your mind?"
Livingstone: "Well, in many respects, he's more important than bin Laden today. Bin Laden is a figurehead in many respects. Zawahiri is [an] operations chief. He's the guy who really in the past has planned operations, executed them. This would have been, if we had hit him, one of the greatest victories to date in the war against terrorism."
Mitchell: "Let's go back to about a week ago, January 6, Arab networks broadcast a videotape by Zawahiri condemning U.S. actions in Iraq. Just a week later, there is this strike in Pakistan. What do you make of this?"
Livingstone: "Well, I think there may well be a connection. It could be that we found the channel that he is using to get tapes out of the mountains there and to Al-Jazeera and other Arab-language networks. Obviously, the U.S. government felt it was getting very close."
Mitchell: "Neil Livingstone in Washington, thank you so much for your insight."
January 14 NBC Nightly News:
John Seigenthaler, in opening teaser: "Attack on al-Qaeda: The U.S. targets the second in command. Pakistan protests, but what really happened on the ground? Did Osama bin Laden's deputy escape?"
Seigenthaler, introducing the lead story: "Good evening, everyone. There's new information tonight on the U.S. attempt to track down and kill al-Qaeda's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri. An air strike demolished a house in a small village in Pakistan Friday near the Afghanistan border. While the Pakistani government has lodged a formal complaint with the U.S. over the attack, tonight it is still unclear whether Zawahiri was even in the house or whether he was killed in the attack. NBC's Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski joins us tonight with the latest. Good evening, Jim."
Jim Miklaszewski: "Good evening, John. Some Pakistani officials say Zawahiri was not killed in those American air strikes. U.S. officials say they still don't know, but insist that they had the al-Qaeda leader in their sights. Hundreds of angry demonstrators chanted anti-American slogans and set fire to offices of an American relief organization in western Pakistan today, protesting those air strikes that were aimed at al-Qaeda's number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri. As many as 18 civilians were reportedly killed in the attack on the Pakistani village near the Afghanistan border. Villagers showed off pieces of missiles, some with U.S. markings. In Islamabad, Pakistani officials lodged a protest with the U.S. embassy."
Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Pakistani Information Minister: "We deeply regret that civilian lives have been lost in an incident in Damadola."
Miklaszewski: "But U.S. officials tell NBC News the Pakistani government approved the air strikes when at least one CIA predator drone launched HELLFIRE missiles against three separate buildings in the village."
Roger Cressey, NBC News Analyst: "It's a very good example of how important Pakistan is to our fight against al-Qaeda and the hunt for bin Laden and al-Zawahiri."
Miklaszewski: "U.S. intelligence indicated that as many as five al-Qaeda leaders, including Zawahiri, were gathered here for a post-Ramadan celebration. Taliban leaders in Pakistan tell NBC News Zawahiri was here, but left just before the air strikes. But tonight, 48 hours after the attack, there's been no public denials from al-Qaeda. U.S. intelligence officials tell NBC News they've detected no telephone chatter about Zawahiri among al-Qaeda operatives. And al-Qaeda-related Web sites have had no postings to indicate whether he's dead or alive. It's been more than a year since Osama bin Laden has shown up publicly on audio or videotape. Since then, Zawahiri has taken over as al-Qaeda's man in charge. His death could deal a serious blow to the terrorist organization."
Cressey: "He had a unique combination of experience, knowledge, and as the chief propagandist, he had a role next to bin Laden that, frankly, no one else in the al-Qaeda organization does."
Miklaszewski: "Now, the CIA does have Zawahiri's DNA to compare against any possible recovered remains, but that whole process could take several days, John."