Networks Allow Scant Coverage of Obama's 'Stunning Reversal' on Guantanamo, Harassed Bush

The three evening newscasts on Monday and the morning shows on Tuesday mostly ignored Barack Obama's abandonment of a campaign pledge to close Guantanamo Bay and end trials of detainees there. NBC's Today, CBS's Early Show and ABC's Good Morning America all covered the story only in news briefs. Yet, when President Bush was in the White House, the networks obsessed over the issue.

Today's Ann Curry called the move to resume military trials there a "stunning reversal," but the network allowed just two brief anchor reads during the four hour program. ABC almost completely ignored the development. Monday's World News skipped the topic entirely.

On Tuesday's Good Morning America, Juju Chang offered a single mention, explaining, "And an about-face from President Obama on Guantanamo Bay. He is resuming military trials for terrorism suspects held in Cuba, two years after he pledged to close the prison."

Chuck Todd on Monday's Nightly News managed to shove the news into the end of a story on another topic. He added, "Now, Brian, I've got one other important note here from the White House. No issue's bedeviled this President more than trying to keep his promise of shutting down the prison at Guantanamo Bay." Yet, for a problem "bedeviling" the President, NBC didn't seem terribly interested.

CBS's Katie Couric blandly related the development in a news brief.

Yet, when George W. Bush was President, the coverage was far different. According to a 2006 study by the MRC's Rich Noyes, between September 11, 2001 and August 31, 2006, the nightly newscasts on the three networks devoted 277 stories to Guantanamo Bay. Noyes explained:

Most of the network coverage of Guantanamo Bay focused on charges that the captured al-Qaeda terrorists were due additional rights or privileges (100 stories) or allegations that detainees were being mistreated or abused (105 stories). Only 39 stories described the inmates as dangerous, and just six stories revealed that ex-detainees had committed new acts of terror after being released.

Network reporters largely portrayed the Guantanamo inmates as victims, with about one in seven stories including the word "torture." The networks aired a total of 46 soundbites from Guantanamo prisoners, their families or lawyers, most professing innocence or complaining about mistreatment. Not one report about the Guantanamo prisoners included a comment from 9/11 victims, their families or lawyers speaking on their behalf.

On the May 19, 2006 CBS Evening News, guest anchor Bob Schieffer complained, "Has the U.S. prison for terror suspects at Guantanamo become more trouble than it's worth? Even those who created it have to be asking that question tonight. It has generated reams of bad publicity for the United States, today a UN committee said it ought to be shut down because it violates the Geneva Convention..."

Additionally, Politifact, which is keeping track of Barack Obama's broken promises, has yet to update its Guantanamo section.

This is how the Barack Obama campaign described the then-candidate's promise

Close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center. Guantanamo has become a recruiting tool for our enemies. The legal framework behind Guantanamo has failed completely, resulting in only one conviction. President Bush's own Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, wants to close it. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, wants to close it.

The first step to reclaiming America's standing in the world has to be closing this facility. As president, Barack Obama will close the detention facility at Guantanamo. He will reject the Military Commissions Act, which allowed the U.S. to circumvent Geneva Conventions in the handling of detainees. He will develop a fair and thorough process based on the Uniform Code of Military Justice to distinguish between those prisoners who should be prosecuted for their crimes, those who can't be prosecuted but who can be held in a manner consistent with the laws.


Transcripts of the scant coverage can be found below:


GMA
03/08/11
7:34

JUJU CHANG: And an about-face from President Obama on Guantanamo Bay. He is resuming military trials for terrorism suspects held in Cuba, two years after he pledged to close the prison. His plan to try terror suspects here in the U.S. has run into strong opposition in Congress.


Today
03/08/11
7:15

ANN CURRY: In a stunning reversal President Obama signed an executive order to resume military trials in Guantanamo, just two years after vowing to close the controversial facility. The order also creates a formal system to keep detainees in prison there indefinitely.

9:01

CURRY: In a stunning reversal, President Obama signed an executive order to resume military trials at Guantanamo just two years after vowing to close the controversial facility. The order creates a formal system to keep detainees in prison there indefinitely.

Early Show
03/08/11

JEFF GLOR: President Obama has reversed his decision on military trials at Guantanamo Bay. Two years ago, Mr. Obama stopped the trials of suspected terrorists and promised to close Gitmo in a year. The President wanted to try suspects like alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in civilian court, but those plans were opposed by many in Congress. For the prisoners not being tried, their status will be revealed in a year and then every three years after that.

Nightly News
03/07/11

CHUCK TODD: Now, Brian, I've got one other important note here from the White House. No issue's bedeviled this President more than trying to keep his promise of shutting down the prison at Guantanamo Bay. So today the President ordered the Pentagon to reinstitute the military tribunals in order to deal with detainees still in Guantanamo, including the 9/11 conspirators like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The White House said today that they were forced to do this because it was clear Congress would not fund any program that was going to bring those detainees onto American soil to be tried in federal courts, Brian.

Evening News
03/07/11

KATIE COURIC: In other news, military trials will resume for terror suspects held at Guantanamo. President Obama today lifted the ban he imposed two years ago. And 172 detainees are still being held at Guantanamo, and the president has promised to close the prison. But Congress has blocked his efforts to have them tried in civilian courts here in the U.S.

— Scott Whitlock is a news analyst for the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org