Unlike CBS and NBC, ABC Again Refuses to Label Hamas as “Terrorist”

While CBS and NBC reporters were willing Thursday night to outright tag, without any qualifiers or attributions to others, Hamas as a “terrorist” group, for the second night in a row, ABC's World News Tonight distanced itself from the term -- even avoiding it during a friendly profile of a terrorist. ABC anchor Bob Woodruff teased from Jerusalem: “Tonight, a monumental shake-up in the Middle East. Hamas declared the winner of the Palestinian elections. The U.S. calls them terrorists.” But that was it for the label. Woodruff proceeded to refer to Hamas as “the militant Islamic group that calls for the destruction of Israel” and he conceded “there is no question that Hamas is more militant and more overtly Islamic than the secular leaders it defeated.” Woodruff also noted that “through its military wing,” Hamas “has led the fight against Israel,” but he then put a nice and generous face on Hamas, adding that “through its charities” Hamas has “provided free schooling, medicine and food.”

Following his opening story on the election victory by Hamas, Woodruff set up a piece on how “one of its most-celebrated figures,” a woman who won a seat, “is a mother who sent her sons to their deaths.” With “A Bombers' Mother” as the on-screen tag, Wilf Dinnick provided a non-judgmental look at how “Palestinians voted for Miriam Farahat because she's made astonishing sacrifices in her quest to destroy Israel. Farahat has sent three of her six sons on suicide missions. That's why her supporters call her Um Nidal, the 'Mother of the Struggle.'” Without ever calling her or her murdering sons either “murderers” or “terrorists,” Dinnick concluded with her “sacrifice” for the cause: “Today, she vowed to do whatever Hamas asks of her. 'I am ready to serve,' she says. And if that means sacrificing her three remaining sons, Um Nidal says she's willing.” (Full transcripts of ABC's stories, as well as the labeling aired by CBS and NBC, follows.)

A promo, aired during Thursday's World News Tonight, touted Woodruff's insights: "Right at the moment history is made in the Middle East, Bob Woodruff is again right there. The only network news anchor on the scene with the unmatched reporting you can only get by being there, live inside the story."

On the CBS Evening News, anchor Bob Schieffer echoed Woodruff as he cited “Hamas, which the United States brands a terrorist organization.” But from the Palestinian territories, CBS reporter David Hawkins didn't hesitate to refer to “the terrorist group's landslide win.” NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams declared outright in his tease: "The terrorist group Hamas wins the Palestinian elections.” Introducing his lead story, Williams reported that “the Palestinian elections had defied the exit polls and swung the other way to Hamas, a terrorist group.” NBC reporter Martin Flectcher described Hamas as “Islamic militants” and as “a fundamentalist Muslim group devoted to the destruction of Israel.”

On Wednesday's World News Tonight, this NewsBusters item by Brad Wilmouth recounted, Woodruff asserted: “Hamas, which the U.S. calls a terrorist organization...” In this NewsBusters item, “Can Journalists Read the Hamas Charter Before They Go Soft on the T-Word?”, Tim Graham provides text from the Hamas charter.

Transcripts from Thursday night, January 26 coverage of Hamas, with the ABC transcripts provided by Brad Wilmouth, who corrected the closed-captioning against the video:

# CBS Evening News. Bob Schieffer's lead:
“Well, the Palestinian group that has vowed to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth has scored a solid victory in parliamentary elections. Hamas, which the United States brands a terrorist organization, will have outright control of the Palestinian government. That will radically change the whole Middle East equation and the prospects for peace, and it puts the United States in an extremely awkward position. We begin our coverage with David Hawkins in Gaza.”

David Hawkins: “Hamas supporters are celebrating their victory.”

Celebrating man leaning out of car: “Now Hamas is government!”

Hawkins: “While the rest of the world wonders whether the terrorist group's landslide win will bury all hope for Middle East peace. In a statement tonight, acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert insisted that 'Israel will not negotiate with any Palestinian administration if even a part of it is an armed terrorist organization.'...”


# NBC Nightly News. Brian Williams teased:
“Power struggle. The terrorist group Hamas wins the Palestinian elections, but President Bush says the U.S. won't do business with them. Now what?”

Williams soon opened his newscast: “Good evening. We have news on several fronts tonight, in part because for the 22nd time in his presidency, President Bush today took questions from the White House press corps. He was asked about the domestic surveillance controversy, about New Orleans, and most immediately about the news overnight that the Palestinian elections had defied the exit polls and swung the other way to Hamas, a terrorist group. That is a big problem for the U.S., just as it was a big surprise around the world. The President has vowed not to do business with Hamas, so we'll begin there with NBC's Martin Fletcher.”

Fletcher began: “Even Hamas was stunned by its landslide victory. The Islamic militants won 76 out of 132 seats. It can form a majority government all on its own. But Hamas leaders quickly offered to share power with the defeated Fatah party. Fatah leaders said no. After 40 years of dominating Palestinian life, the party of Yasser Arafat is out.”

Saed Erekat, Palestinian peace negotiator: “We will not be part of any national unity government.”

Fletcher: “And the future of President Mahmoud Abbas is in doubt. Democracy in the Palestinian territories has brought to power a fundamentalist Muslim group devoted to the destruction of Israel and the creation of an Islamic state...”


# ABC's World News Tonight. Bob Woodruff, in opening teaser:
"I'm Bob Woodruff in Jerusalem. Tonight, a monumental shake-up in the Middle East. Hamas declared the winner of the Palestinian elections. The U.S. calls them terrorists. What will it mean for the region and the chances for peace?"

Woodruff led: "Good evening from Jerusalem. We begin tonight with a sea change in the Middle East. Hamas, the militant Islamic group that calls for the destruction of Israel, has won the Palestinian parliamentary elections in a landslide. Out of 132 seats, Hamas took 76, compared to 43 for Fatah, the party of Yasser Arafat, which has ruled Palestinian politics for four decades. Fatah's Prime Minister and cabinet immediately resigned. President Bush said he will not deal with Hamas until it recognizes Israel's right to exist. But no one doubts Hamas was elected fairly and freely in a part of the world where it doesn't happen very often.

“Across the West Bank and Gaza today, the green flags of Hamas flowed through the city streets. Thousands packed into downtown Ramallah, chanting and firing in the air. Outside the Palestinian parliament, there was violence. Supporters of Fatah, stunned by their defeat, moved in with stones and fists after someone raised a Hamas flag over the building. Fatah officials, who have ruled the Palestinians for 41 years, were stunned. Long-serving peace negotiator Saeb Erekat went to bed last night thinking Fatah had won."

Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator: "This was a major shock for me. I woke up this morning to find the skies of my hometown green and to find a new political era, a new political life."

Woodruff: "There is no question that Hamas is more militant and more overtly Islamic than the secular leaders it defeated. At today's celebrations, the men marched in front, the women followed, nearly all of them their heads covered. Hamas won this election largely because many Palestinians believe Fatah's government failed. 'I am so happy Hamas won,' this woman told us. 'We tried Fatah, and they just didn't get the job done.' Fatah did little to end the Israeli occupation or lift its people out of poverty. But Hamas, through its military wing, has led the fight against Israel and, through its charities, provided free schooling, medicine and food. Palestinians are desperate for change."

Unidentified Palestinian man: "We tried Fatah for ten years, and nothing happened in this country."

Woodruff: "The Israeli government said today it would not negotiate with Hamas. Hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu, who is running for Prime Minister again, seized the political moment to sound this alarm: 'In front of our eyes is being created "Hamas-stan,"' he said, 'worse than Iran and in the image of the Taliban.' In downtown Jerusalem, the concern was more measured."

Unidentified man: "I don't know what will happen now with a terror organization leading the Palestinian Authority. It doesn't seem good."

Woodruff: "But tonight, the question of good and bad ultimately depends on what Hamas does with its power. It has been swept in by a clean election on a wave of popularity and by people who have grown tired of infighting and corruption. The expectations and the stakes here are very high."

"Hamas, in the past, has used suicide bombings to devastating effect. And one of its most-celebrated figures is a mother who sent her sons to their deaths. Tonight, she is an elected official. Here's ABC's Wilf Dinnick."

Wilf Dinnick: "It doesn't matter that she has no political experience. Palestinians voted for Miriam Farahat because she's made astonishing sacrifices in her quest to destroy Israel. Farahat has sent three of her six sons on suicide missions. That's why her supporters call her Um Nidal, the 'Mother of the Struggle.' In this Hamas video, she shows her 17-year-old how to attack Israelis. Just hours later, he shot and killed five students in this Jewish settlement. Then, he was killed himself. 'I love my children,' she says, 'but, as Muslims, we sacrifice our emotions to build a nation for the Palestinian people.' Wherever she campaigned, people said it was the way she gave up her children for her nation, with no tears, that won their support. And this week they rewarded her with their votes.

“Now that Um Nidal has been elected to the Palestinian parliament, the question is: Will she end her violent campaign against Israel? Today, she vowed to do whatever Hamas asks of her. 'I am ready to serve,' she says. And if that means sacrificing her three remaining sons, Um Nidal says she's willing. Wilf Dinnick, ABC News, Gaza."

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center