'Underwear Bomber' Less Newsworthy Than People Crying Over Michelle Obama?

The news Monday of a thwarted al-Qaeda plot to place another explosive device modeled on the "underwear bomb" that failed on Christmas Day 2009 might make a news consumer wonder: What ever happened to that terrorist, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab? On February 16, he was sentenced to life in prison for his attempt at mass murder. Did you miss it? The networks weren't very interested. Only ABC's World News filed a full evening-news report by legal reporter Pierre Thomas, but even that left out Team Obama -- especially Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano claiming "the system worked" when it obviously didn't. Citizens foiled the attack over Detroit, not the government.

NBC never covered the life sentence in the evening. One 67-word brief by Amy Robach on "Today" was all they did. CBS Evening News mentioned it briefly, but here's one full Obama report they did instead, correspondent Norah O'Donnell explaining how White House tourists were "overcome with emotion" when Michelle Obama made a surprise appearance:


NORAH O'DONNELL: When White House visitors turned the corner to the Blue Room today, they were greeted by none other than the First Lady.

MICHELLE OBAMA: You tell your friend I said eat their vegetables.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Okay.

MICHELLE OBAMA: All right? All right.

O'DONNELL: This is not the first time Mrs. Obama has surprised guests. She's done it four times since her husband became president. [So, then, why is it “news”?] And today she welcomed her visitors with open arms.

MICHELLE OBAMA: Did you expect to see me here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

MICHELLE OBAMA: Surprise!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Surprise!

MICHELLE OBAMA: Yes!

O'DONNELL: Unprepared to meet America's most famous wife and mother, some were overcome with emotion.

MICHELLE OBAMA: Oh, don't cry! Don't cry!

O`DONNELL: One young girl just couldn't believe her eyes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my goodness!

MICHELLE OBAMA: Oh, my god! Oh, my goodness!

O`DONNELL: In all, Mrs. Obama welcomed more than 500 guests for more than an hour.

ABC offered a news brief on "Good Morning America" before and after the verdict, which was expected (which offers the most obvious network excuse). CBS also offered a morning news brief before and after. This was the entirety of NBC coverage, three sentences:

AMY ROBACH: A Nigerian man known as the "Underwear Bomber" has now been sentenced to life in prison without parole. Twenty-five-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab pleaded guilty to attempting a suicide bombing on a Christmas Day flight back in 2009. The bomb did not detonate, but FBI experts showed this video just before sentencing. It demonstrates how destructive his bomb could have been if it had gone off as planned.

The networks might claim the newspapersdidn't play it big. On February 17, the Washington Post buried it on A-18. But the New York Times report (on A-3) suggested there was personal drama that made for good human-interest grist for a television audience:

Mr. Abdulmutallab, who wore a white T-shirt and tan pants, spoke for about three minutes. He claimed that Osama bin Laden and other Qaeda leaders who had been killed ''are alive and shall be victorious by God's grace.'' He also said terrorist attacks would continue ''until the Jews are driven out of Palestine.''

The flight attendant, Lemare Mason, said Mr. Abdulmutallab had ''robbed'' him of the pleasure of working his ''dream job traveling the world.'' Mr. Mason said he had had night sweats and was now constantly frightened about another terrorist attack.

''Since that day, my life has changed,'' he said. ''It's punishment going to work now. It's not a joy.''

A passenger, Lori Haskell, recalled thinking that she was about to die, as smoke, flames and shouting emanated from eight rows in front of where she and her husband were sitting as they returned from an African safari. Even though everyone survived, she said that Mr. Abdulmutallab was wrong to say no one was hurt.

''What the defendant did caused lifetime harm to all of us on that plane,'' Mrs. Haskell said.

[Photo from The White House]

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis