ABC & NBC Trumpet: In 'Stinging Rebuke,' a 'Central Argument' for Iraq War 'Shredded'

Friday's broadcast network evening newscasts delivered three different levels of priority to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's report which concluded there were no connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda, hardly fresh news. The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric didn't air a syllable about it [UPDATE: CBS led with it on Saturday evening, see below], ABC's World News with Charles Gibson teased it and made it the newscast's second story (after the suicide bombing in Kabul) and NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams led with it. Gibson teased: “A Senate report rejects a central argument for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, saying there is no Iraqi link to al-Qaeda." Reporter Martha Raddatz characterized the report as “a stinging rebuke to those assertions made by the White House leading up to the war...and long afterwards. In four years, the administration has argued that Saddam Hussein was tied to Abu Musab Zarqawi and al-Qaeda."

Williams opened his program by mocking the naivete of many Americans: "Good evening. According to an opinion poll just released this week, 43 percent of Americans believe Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the 9/11 attacks. That is almost half the country. Linking Iraq and al-Qaeda has been a tricky business. Some in the administration have made the tie. Tonight the notion of any link between the two has been shredded by a big new report issued by the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee.” (Partial transcripts follow)

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth took down the beginnings of the September 8 ABC and NBC coverage:

ABC's World News with Charles Gibson:
Charles Gibson, in opening teaser: "The case for war: A Senate report rejects a central argument for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, saying there is no Iraqi link to al-Qaeda."

Gibson introduced the subsequent story: "From Afghanistan to Iraq. In the lead-up to the war there, and for a long time afterward, members of the administration, including the President, have maintained there was a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Today a declassified Senate report said that was not true, that, in fact, Saddam Hussein mistrusted al-Qaeda and thought it a threat to his power. Our chief White House correspondent, Martha Raddatz, is joining us tonight. Martha?"

Martha Raddatz began: "Charlie, the report is a stinging rebuke to those assertions made by the White House leading up to the war, as you said, and long afterwards. In four years, the administration has argued that Saddam Hussein was tied to Abu Musab Zarqawi and al-Qaeda."

George W. Bush, September 22, 2004: "We knew Saddam Hussein harbored Zarqawi, the terrorist we have seen who's beheaded some of our citizens. We knew they were there."...

NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams:
Williams, in opening teaser: "No link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. That's the conclusion of a declassified report of the Senate Intelligence Committee."

Williams led his newscast: "Good evening. According to an opinion poll just released this week, 43 percent of Americans believe Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the 9/11 attacks. That is almost half the country. Linking Iraq and al-Qaeda has been a tricky business. Some in the administration have made the tie. Tonight the notion of any link between the two has been shredded by a big new report issued by the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee. It finds no link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. In fact, it says the two have very little in common. There's even evidence Saddam Hussein used to criticize Osama bin Laden. What will change, as a result? Not much. But it will be seen as proof that there was a whole lot of bad intelligence floating around, some of which was used to launch a war. This is where we'll begin tonight with NBC's Lisa Myers in Washington. Lisa, good evening."

Lisa Myers: "Good evening, Brian. The Senate report finds that the Bush administration repeatedly disregarded warnings that key intelligence might be wrong, even a warning that information had been fabricated. The Bush administration repeatedly claimed there were ties between Saddam and al-Qaeda."

George W. Bush, October 7, 2002: "We've learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and deadly gases."

Dick Cheney, September 14, 2003: "Al-Qaeda sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained on the systems and involved the Iraqis providing bomb making expertise and advice to the al-Qaeda organization."...

[UPDATE: The Saturday edition of the CBS Evening News led with the Senate report. Anchor Russ Mitchell teased: “Would America be safer with Saddam still in power in Iraq? That's Senator John Rockefeller's surprising claim in tonight's exclusive interview." He soon led the September 9 newscast:

“Good evening. A newly released report on pre-war intelligence about Iraq is still spreading shockwaves this evening and moving a key Democratic Senator to make a dramatic claim. The Senate Intelligence Committee found no evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, and no proof that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction. But it does quote former CIA chief George Tenet as testifying that the White House had pressured him to back up the case for war. Congressional correspondent Sharyl Attkisson has more on the reports and an exclusive interview."]
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center