Over the last 15 days, the world has been rocked by two troubling and growing international crises: the shootdown of a civilian airliner over the Ukraine; and the intense fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. While the three evening newscasts have offered considerable coverage of the unfolding events, CBS, NBC and ABC have made almost no attempt to evaluate the performance of Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry or the administration generally, and critics of the administration have been ignored.
Since July 8, the broadcast evening newscasts have aired 79 stories (169 minutes) on the Gaza fighting; only 45 seconds of that included criticism of the administration. Since July 17, the three evening newscasts have aired 96 stories (209 minutes) on the jet shootdown; just 10 seconds of that coverage has included criticism of Obama or his team.
It's not as though Americans were unified in appreciation and approval of Obama's reaction to the attack on the Malaysian jet or the violence in Gaza. The President received a considerable amount of criticism from Republicans and conservatives for attending Democratic fundraisers just hours after almost 300 airline passengers were killed in a missile strike.
Yet, viewers wouldn't know it from the July 17 NBC Nightly News, ABC's World News or the CBS Evening News. NBC reporter Chris Jansing blandly parroted, "I asked if there was any consideration of not attending fund-raisers tonight. A senior White House official said, simply, 'we are sticking with the schedule.'"
On the same day's Evening News, Major Garrett offered no hint that it was unusual for a president to spend a mere 40 seconds discussing an international crisis. He simply noted, "...It was business as usual for Mr. Obama. His remarks in Delaware as scheduled, focus on improving substandard roads and bridges."
While NBC and CBS mentioned Obama’s attendance at those fundraisers on July 17, there was no suggestion on any evening newscast that this was even controversial until Wednesday, July 23. On that day, anchor Scott Pelley discovered the issue: "With battles raging overseas, President Obama shuttled among fundraisers here at home...But is now the best time to be on the road?"
Adding in the July 23 CBS story (two minutes and one second) that questioned Obama's attendance at fundraisers during this perilous time, the grand total amounts to two minutes, 56 seconds of criticism out 6 hours, 20 minutes of network news coverage, or about eight tenths of one percent.
On July 18, the President was panned for his listless remarks on the Malaysian jet, vs. the sharp, detailed remarks made the same day by UN Ambassador Samantha Power. On FNC’s Special Report that night, for example, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer observed of Obama: “He looked almost disinterested, detached practically, you know, half-asleep. There was no passion, there was no interest in this.” None of the three evening broadcasts let viewers know such criticism existed.
On the July 20 Fox News Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry was caught on a hot mic mocking the Israeli military — “It’s a helluva pinpoint operation” — a statement that would normally be considered very controversial coming from a U.S. secretary of state. But none of the three networks evening newscasts disclosed that Kerry had ever even said this, let alone evaluated it. This despite the fact that host Chris Wallace griilled Kerry on the subject.
On Wednesday, Michael Bloomberg blasted Obama's Federal Aviation Administration for stopping flights to Tel Aviv. The former New York City Mayor flew to Israel to "show solidarity with the Israeli people" and to "show that it's safe to fly in and out" of the country.
Leveling his fire at the Obama administration, he attacked, "Halting flights here – when the airport is safe – hurts Israel and rewards Hamas for attacking Israel." Yet, only the NBC Nightly Newscovered this, allowing 27 seconds and quoting Bloomberg that the "FAA ban gives Hamas a win." CBS and ABC ignored the development.
On Tuesday, the networks allowed a combined 18 seconds to paraphrasing complaints from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
It's not as though journalists were hesitant to offer opinions on how the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 investigation was being handled. World News reporter Terry Moran on July 19 railed against the botched response. Walking through debris field, he complained, "It is outrageous that we can get this close. This is evidence completely unsecured."
Apart from these two crises, the broadcast networks have been hiding criticism of other elements of Obama’s foreign policy. On the July 20 Fox News Sunday, the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, Bob Menendez, said of the Iran talks that “the $2.8 billion that we are giving Iran in essence to continue to negotiate which is something in their own interest is pretty preposterous to me.”
If a leading Senate Republican like Richard Lugar had criticized the Bush administration on such an important issue, it would have been news on all three networks. But not only was Menendez's complaint ignored, the administration's decision to extend the talks until after the November elections was totally ignored.
This is a pattern we have seen with other “bad news” stories for Obama — the broadcast networks hesitated for several days before acknowledging the VA scandal, and then included virtually no criticism of Obama for failing to recognize the problem for several years. The first few weeks of coverage of the immigration crisis included virtually no criticism of the administration, until Democratic congressmen like Henry Cuellar began to criticize the President.
During the Bush administration, the networks routinely turned to harsh critics of the President. Highlighting – and blaming– Bush for foreign and domestic problems.
The networks have devoted huge resources to covering these stories. It’s highly unusual — and a huge favor to the White House — that so little effort has been spent trying to actually evaluate the administration’s performance. At a minimum, the networks could have devoted a few of the more than six hours of coverage they’ve delivered over the past two weeks to at least documenting the existence of administration critics.