While all three broadcast networks provided some amount of coverage to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai releasing 65 dangerous Taliban insurgents from prison on Thursday despite explicit U.S. objections, none of the reporting suggested President Obama's handling of the war in Afghanistan was to blame for the "tattered U.S. relations" with Karzai's government. [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
At the top Thursday's ABC World News, anchor Diane Sawyer declared "American outrage" over the release, followed by White House correspondent Jonathan Karl proclaiming: "It's another low-point for already tattered U.S. relations with President Karzai, who has been trying to get his own peace deal with the Taliban."
Karl concluded: "President Obama still has to decide how many U.S. forces should remain in Afghanistan after the end of the year, but today's prisoner release is the kind of thing that makes it harder for the U.S. to remain in Afghanistan at all."
On CBS Evening News, anchor Scott Pelley warned that "relations are getting worse by the day" between the U.S. and Afghanistan but never wondered what the Obama administration was doing about it.
NBC Nightly News ignored the development completely. The network only offered a 30-second news brief on Friday's Today, when Natalie Morales described "growing tensions in Afghanistan this morning after the Afghan government released 65 accused militants despite strong objections from the United States."
ABC did not give the story any air time on Friday's Good Morning America.
Friday's CBS This Morning did get a report from White House correspondent Major Garrett on the prisoner release and U.S. reaction: "The relationship between President Obama and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is virtually non-existent. Repeated U.S. protests against this prisoner release not only fell on deaf ears but may have accelerated and intensified Karzai's defiance."
Garrett further explained:
Now, Karzai leaves office in April. The one remaining question is whether he will sign an agreement already negotiated with the United States to keep a residual force of U.S. troops in Afghan after 2014. The United Sates says it must be signed soon or the U.S. forces will pull out entirely. What remains unclear is whether Karzai will sign it or the Unites States will swallow that demand and wait for the new Afghan government post April to make a decision about the size of that residual U.S. force.
Despite the references to "tattered U.S. relations" with Karzai and Obama having a "virtually non-existent" relationship with the Afghan president, the networks avoided describing the news as either the result or evidence of bad foreign policy by the White House.
On Fox News's Special Report on Thursday, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer actually made the connection:
[Karzai] releases the prisoners, he has secret negotiations with the Taliban, he denounces the United States left and right, he refuses to sign on to the status of forces agreement. Why? Because either we're gonna leave this year, or even if we leave this year, he's already heard the reports that the Pentagon wants to evacuate all Americans in time for 2016 so that Obama can leave with a legacy of having gotten us out of the war. As if our national interests ought to be dictated by how Obama looks in history or how he vindicates a promise that he had made in the past. He [Karzai] looks at that and says, "The Americans will be gone for sure one way or the other. I'm going to be here and I don't want to be lynched like the last Soviet dictator."