On ABC's World News Tonight on Wednesday January 25, anchor Bob Woodruff showed some reluctance to label Hamas as a terrorist organization outright, but instead qualified the label by calling it a "militant" group "which the U.S. calls a terrorist organization." Woodruff also referred to Hamas once as a "radical group" and once simply as a "group."
During the opening teaser, while previewing a story on the Palestinian elections, Woodruff announced: "It's been an historic day in the Middle East. Palestinians voting for their future. The radical group Hamas gains strength and gets a warning from the Bush administration."
Introducing a story on the elections, in which Hamas won a substantial number of seats in the parliament, Woodruff asked: "Would Palestinians vote to keep the long-ruling Fatah movement in power or would the militant challenger, Hamas, which the U.S. calls a terrorist organization, prevail?"
After showing a sound bite of Israel's foreign minister relaying the Hamas goal of "demolishing" Israel, and after airing a sound bite of Jimmy Carter expressing hope that Hamas would change, Woodruff ended the piece referring to Hamas simply as a "group." Woodruff concluded: "With Hamas even as a minority part of the government, [aid from the U.S.] could dry up unless this group, which has fought violently with Israel for years, gives up its guns."
This reluctance to label Hamas as a terrorist organization is reminiscent of former ABC anchor Peter Jennings' approach to dealing with stories about Israel and Hamas. For example, as recounted by CyberAlert, on the March 17, 2003 World News Tonight, Jennings read this short item: "In Palestinian Gaza today an Israeli raid killed ten Palestinians, including a four-year-old girl, at a refugee camp. The Israelis say the camp is a stronghold of the Hamas group which they accuse of sponsoring terrorism."
Below is a transript of relevant portions of the the January 25 World News Tonight in which Woodruff discussed Hamas:
Bob Woodruff, in opening teaser: "I'm Bob Woodruff in Jerusalem. It's been an historic day in the Middle East. Palestinians voting for their future. The radical group Hamas gains strength and gets a warning from the Bush administration."
Woodruff, introducing the story: "Good evening from Jerusalem. In this region that has seen so much history, history was made again today. Nearly one million Palestinians have gone to the polls in the Palestinians' first election in 10 years. The stakes are very high not just for the Middle East, but for the U.S. as well. Would Palestinians vote to keep the long-ruling Fatah movement in power or would the militant challenger, Hamas, which the U.S. calls a terrorist organization, prevail?"
After detailing some events of the election day, Woodruff moved to discussing Hamas: "While Hamas may not have won, its candidates will have a major presence in the parliament and will certainly press for changes. Its Islamic influence could deeply effect this largely secular community. 'I am voting for Hamas because they are the Islamic movement,' this woman told us, 'and we are going to follow the Koran.' Although Hamas has downplayed its militant side during this campaign, there are serious questions about how it will deal with Israel. So far, it has refused to recognize it or get involved in negotiations. Israel's new foreign minister holds out little hope."
Tsipy Livney, Israeli Foreign Minister: "The essence, the reasons of the existence of the Hamas is not because they want to gain some political gains in the conflict. They are talking about demolishing the state of Israel, to erase the state of Israel from Earth."
Woodruff: "What no one knows is if Hamas will change now that it has gained political power. Former President Jimmy Carter came to monitor today's elections."
Woodruff, speaking to Jimmy Carter: "There are some who believe that Hamas will be pragmatic, though, once they have power-"
Jimmy Carter: "That's my hope. Everybody hopes that Hamas would be pragmatic because one thing is, maybe not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the people they represent, because there's no doubt if Hamas is not, as you say, pragmatic, then there'll be a dramatic reduction in foreign aid assistance."
Woodruff: "Last year, the U.S. spent $500 million to help the Palestinians, $70 million directly to the Palestinian Authority. With Hamas even as a minority part of the government, that could dry up unless this group, which has fought violently with Israel for years, gives up its guns."