Catching up on an item from last week on the Tuesday, June 8, NBC Nightly News, correspondent Tom Aspell portrayed the residents of Gaza as living through a life prison sentence imposed by Israel: "Israel's blockade on Gaza isn't just about preventing goods from getting in, it's about preventing 1.5 million Palestinians from getting out. It sentences them to life inside a 140-square-mile prison." Anchor Brian Williams set up the piece: "We are back now with a rare look inside a place 1.5 million people call home. The Israelis call it a hotbed of terrorism, but the people who live there say they are prisoners of poverty and misery."
As Aspell asserted that dire conditions exist for those in Gaza, he barely mentioned reports to the contrary, and placed the burden of blame squarely on Israel as, even though Egypt actively takes part in the blockade, the NBC correspondent only indirectly alluded to Egypt’s participation as he mentioned that tunnels that lead from Egypt to Gaza are illegal, and related that "some supplies" are "smuggled through hundreds of illegal tunnels under the border from Egypt." But last February, FNC’s Mike Tobin devoted a report to the construction of underground walls by Egypt in an attempt to keep up its end of the blockade by closing off the tunnels: "With each elongated piece of steel Egyptians drive 20 yards into the ground down to the water table, they get closer to completing the iron curtain which will close Gaza's smuggling tunnels. When construction began a month ago, Palestinians in the Gaza strip rioted killing an Egyptian soldier."
While the broadcast networks ABC, CBS and NBC have all failed to remind viewers that Israel allows regular aid shipments into Gaza over land from its side of the border, on Tuesday’s CBS Evening News correspondent Richard Roth highlighted complaints about the effect of the blockade on Gaza residents, used a soundbite of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to argue that "even [Israel’s] friends question the effect," and even noted that Egypt was opening its border with Gaza for humanitarian aid – all while still not informing viewers that the Israelis regularly screen aid shipments and allow them into Gaza.
RICHARD ROTH: The U.N. says 70 percent of its million and a half people live on less than a dollar a day. Smuggling through tunnels to Egypt provides much of what Gazans need but at prices not many can afford. Israel says the aim of the blockade is to control terrorism, but even its friends question the effect.
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The situation in Gaza is unsustainable and unacceptable.
ROTH: Wary of sharing blame, Egypt's now opened its own border with Gaza – for humanitarian reasons, said Cairo – but probably not for long.
On the same day’s The Early Show, CBS anchor Betty Nguyen also noted Egypt’s actions: "This morning, Egypt has temporarily opened its border with Gaza to let in aid shipments after Israel's raid that killed nine people on a humanitarian flotilla."
Similarly, during the war in Gaza from late December 2008 to January 2009, CBS was the network most likely to air complaints about the blockade’s effect on the people of Gaza, and the least likely to report that humanitarian aid was being transported into the Gaza Strip.
The network evening newscasts on Thursday gave positive reviews to President Obama's speech in Cairo, with the NBC Nightly News the most glowingly positive, and ABC giving the most attention to skeptics in the Muslim world. NBC focused on positive reactions to the speech, quoting one observer who got "goose pimples," and another who compared the speech to that of President Kennedy in Berlin. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell seemed to have the most elevated expectations of what will result from Obama’s speech. After acknowledging that Obama risked alienating Jews for his criticism of Israel, she suggested the "rewards" may be worth it: "That said, the reward is huge. This was a transformational speech potentially, by reaching out to the Islamic world, by using the language, as Richard pointed out, by saying "As-Salamu ‘Alaykum," he has transformed the view of America among 1.5 billion people, and that is potentially the biggest, biggest benefit of all. This could change the Obama presidency."
All three made a point of characterizing Obama’s use of the Arabic phrase "As-Salamu ‘Alaykum," or, "Peace be with you," as a gesture that would greatly impress the Muslim world. CBS’s Lara Logan talked about the "excitement" in Cairo over Obama’s "historic" speech, and highlighted Obama’s personal popularity there: "This is a first in Cairo – the name of an American President on T-shirts and souvenirs on sale here. It's a sign of Barack Obama's personal popularity and how much is resting on his shoulders."
Within the first few days of Israel’s campaign in Gaza, the Israeli military struck the Islamic University of Gaza, charging that the school served as a weapons research facility for Hamas. But while CNN, FNC and MSNBC all at some point reported on the school’s links to Hamas, CBS and NBC ignored the terrorist group’s connection in all its reports, while ABC vaguely noted that it was popular with Hamas students while still calling it a "non-military target." CBS, which had initially ignored the strike when it happened in late December, ran a report on the Friday, January 30, CBS Evening News in which correspondent Alan Pizzey, instead of informing viewers of the school’s reported role in terrorism, seemed more concerned that the damage would delay students from graduating, and relayed that "even the Islamic University" was bombed, suggesting it was an unreasonable target. After beginning the story focusing on a college-aged Palestinian man who was collecting explosive material to build bombs for revenge against Israel, Pizzey continued: "It will go in Qassam rockets – payback, the bomb maker says, for the destruction that has been part of his life since birth. Even the Islamic University was pounded by airstrikes, putting students' chances of graduating in jeopardy."
Then came an anti-Israel soundbite from one female student, named Nasser Barakat: "It's clear for us they want to attack everything, single thing in our life and every place in Gaza in order to destroy the whole community – not only the fighters, but the whole community."
By contrast, on December 29, during the 9:00 hour of MSNBC News Live, correspondent Tom Aspell reported: "Starting in the early hours of this morning, [the Israelis] attacked a building belonging to the Islamic University inside the Gaza Strip. The Israelis saying that the Hamas activists had been using it as a laboratory to develop weapons."
Back in September, when General David Petraeus reported that the surge in U.S. troops had improved the security situation in Iraq, the big three broadcast networks were openly skeptical.
"Insurgent attacks are down from 170 in January to 120 in August," ABC's Terry McCarthy noted on the September 9 World News Sunday, the day before Petraeus testified before Congress. "But that is still four attacks a day, on average. Iraq remains a very violent place....Life in central Iraq is still deadly dangerous."
“There is a noticeable trend under way. A growing stream of Iraqis who left to escape the killing, many of them going to Syria, now reversing their migration,” anchor Brian Williams highlighted Tuesday evening as the NBC Nightly News became the first broadcast network evening newscast to air a full report on the trend.
From Baghdad, reporter Tom Aspell showcased a mother who exclaimed: “I'm so excited” and “I can't wait to get back.” Aspell explained: “Though safer, life in Syria turned out to be hard. $300 a month rent and food for the family of seven wiped out their savings. So when the Iraqi government offered free bus tickets to Baghdad, today's opportunity was too good to miss.” Adding the caveat that a safer Iraq is not the main motivator, Aspell noted: “A recent UN survey at registration centers found most Iraqi refugees are returning home not because Iraq is any safer, but because they're running out of money, and Syria is clamping down on visas.” Aspell, however, acknowledged upbeat trends: “Refugees coming back to Baghdad are going to see a lot of changes. There are more people in the streets, shops are open and traffic everywhere.” Though Aspell pointed out how “it is still a dangerous city. There are kidnappings, shootings and bomb blasts every day,” another mother, nonetheless, decided: “Thank God we returned and found the situation better than when we left.”
Finally catching up with ABC and NBC, the night before Thanksgiving the CBS Evening News turned to chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan for a look at how conditions are improving in Iraq. But the story from Logan, who just over a month ago insisted that “we're doing extremely badly,” was more cynical and foreboding than more upbeat reports aired Thanksgiving night on ABC and NBC when CBS's newscast was bumped for football.
Fill-in anchor Russ Mitchell noted “some signs perhaps that conditions are improving. Nationwide, the U.S. military says terror attacks have fallen 55 percent since the summer.” Logan began with how “the sounds of celebration echo on the streets of Baghdad's deadly Adamiyah neighborhood for the first time since the U.S. invasion,” but in explaining that “the U.S. now fights alongside their old Sunni enemy” she said the U.S. “calls them volunteers” while “some people call them America's militia.” Explaining how local Sunni women are helping the U.S., Logan stressed how “it's so dangerous to be seen working for the U.S. that many of these women hide their identity cards.” Logan ominously warned: “The U.S. can't keep paying and protecting the Sunni volunteers forever. And if it doesn't transition into the Iraqi police, and the Iraqi government doesn't take it on, that's the danger....A danger that could send the Sunnis back to war, this time with nothing left to lose.”
Three weeks after ABC's World News aired the first of three stories then and since about significant declines in violence and improving living conditions in Iraq, NBC Nightly News caught up Wednesday night as anchor Brian Williams acknowledged: “We are all hearing more and more these days about a significant drop in violence and deaths in Iraq, even though 2007 some time ago became the bloodiest year of the war, yet for U.S. forces these new stats show a different trend.”
From Iraq, reporter Tom Aspell illustrated how life has improved:
A few months ago, Ali Hamid could not have sold balloons here on Jadriyah Street. He might have been kidnaped or killed. A few blocks away, Azar Habud might have been shot for giving Western-style haircuts in his barbershop. And nearby, Mohammed Hassan's ice cream shop is still busy, even though it was bombed twice in April, killing nine customers. Back then, explosions were a horrifying part of everyday life. Now, the U.S. military says rocket and mortar attacks in Iraq have dropped sharply in the last few months from 1,000 in June to fewer than 400 in October. And so have civilian deaths.