When it comes to deciding between covering the many controversies of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and the Obama administration’s secret $400 million cash payment to Iran, all of the “big three” networks devoted vastly more total time to the former, Wednesday evening. Between ABC, CBS, and NBC they contributed a whopping 13 minutes and 46 seconds to Trump, while only giving the lump sum payment to Iran 5 minutes and 12 seconds of airtime.
Most of the network coverage of Trump during that time was spent reporting on party division, and hyping up a “civil war” within the GOP, as NBC reporter Hallie Jackson put it on Nightly News. “Prominent members of the GOP are abandoning Donald Trump for Hillary Clinton, and party elders are warning he is running out of time to get his campaign on track,” declared fill-in anchor Charlie Rose on CBS Evening News.
ABC’s Cecilia Vega’s report, on World News Tonight continued to drag out claims that Trump blames women for sexual harassment. “Suggesting that the victim is the one who should leave the job,” reported Vega after quoting Trump saying, ““I would like to think she [Ivanka Trump] would find another career or find another company if that was the case."”
In contrast, CBS and NBC’s reports on the Obama administration’s payment to Iran tried to play it down. During her report on CBS, Margaret Brennan seemed to go to bat for the administration by making their argument for them, “Administration officials say they were simply returning money that had been tied up in a 35-year dispute which the president addressed earlier this year.” Rose claimed that Trump and Republicans were merely trying to “capitalize on a report”
NBC had the longest air time for the Iran payment story at 2 minutes and 6 seconds, but that’s mostly because they spent the time defending it. “Did the US in effect pay ransom to Iran to free American prisoners at the very moment the Obama administration was implementing that much heralded Iranian nuclear deal,” stated fill-in anchor Savanna Guthrie, “The White House says no. But critics are saying the timing is deeply troubling.”
During her report, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell noted numerous times that the United States does not pay ransoms, while also playing a clip of the brother of one of the hostages saying they’re thankful to the Obama administration. Mitchell took the opportunity to take a swipe at President Ronald Reagan, “But does it damage US’s credibility as Ronald Reagan is accused of doing in the Iran Contra crisis?”
Mitchell also defended the payment as a way to save taxpayers money and whined that it could hurt her candidate for president:
The White House says this deal actually saved the taxpayers billions in interest and penalty. Because an international court was about to impose that on the US for dragging its heels. Still it is a toxic issue to erupt for a former secretary of state this close to the election.
In contrast ABC’s Martha Raddatz sounded skeptical of the administration’s claims, reporting, “Well, the White House insists the timing is all a coincidence, but David, that $400 million payment first reported by The Wall Street Journal was delivered on an unmarked private plane using foreign currency stacked on pallets.”
In addition, both both Spanish-language networks Univision and Telemundo combined had a greater disparity in time dedicated to Trump stories than they did the Iran news, to the tune of 9 times larger. Together they gave Trump 7 minutes and 52 seconds of coverage, while they gave the Iran controversy a scant 52 seconds.
World News Tonight
August 3, 2016
6:43:07 PM Eastern [1 Minutes 22 Seconds]
DAVID MUIR: The major international headline at this hour. And it's an issue that will likely blow up on the campaign trail. Donald Trump already asking, how this happened. There are revelations that the Obama administration delivered $400 million to Iran, just as Iran was releasing four American hostages back in January. Tonight the administration denies it was ransom, so, let's get right to ABC’s Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz. And Martha, if it wasn't ransom, what was it?
MARTHA RADDATZ: Well, the White House insists the timing is all a coincidence, but David, that $400 million payment first reported by The Wall Street Journal was delivered on an unmarked private plane using foreign currency stacked on pallets. Arriving in Tehran within 36 hours of the release of those American prisoners, including Jason Rezaian of The Washington Post and former Marine Amir Hekmati. And within hours of the formal implementation of the Iran nuclear deal.
MUIR: And Martha, the US maintaining tonight that was money owed Iran from an arms deal long ago?
RADDATZ: Yes, from before the revolution in 1979. And that $400 million was just the first payment of a $1.7 billion settlement, but whether they were owed it or not David, the timing of the repayment allows the Iranians to say they got something from Americans for the deals they made.
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August 3, 2016
6:36:54 PM Eastern [1 Minute 44 Seconds]
CHARLIE ROSE: While campaigning in Florida today, Trump attempted to capitalize on a report that the Obama administration sent $400 million in cash to Iran in January. The timing of that transaction has some crying foul. Here's Margaret Brennan.
[Cuts to video]
MARGARET BRENNAN: Donald Trump joined Republican leaders in accusing President Obama of paying ransom money to Iran.
DONALD TRUMP: We paid $400 million for the hostages, right. Such a bad precedent, such an unbelievably bad precedent by-- set by Obama.
BRENNAN: The US transferred $400 million to Iran last January around the same time that Iran freed four American prisoners, including journalist Jason Rezain. According to the Wall Street Journal, a cargo plane landed in Tehran loaded with stacks of cash, including Euros and Swiss francs. US sanctions forbid using American dollars in any transactions with Iran considered the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism.
August 3, 2016
7:09:55 PM Eastern [2 Minutes 6 Seconds]
SAVANNA GUTHRIE: And now to the fire storm facing the president tonight. Did the US in effect pay ransom to Iran to free American prisoners at the very moment the Obama administration was implementing that much heralded Iranian nuclear deal? The White House says no. But critics are saying the timing is deeply troubling. Here's NBC's Chief Foreign Affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell.
MITCHELL: Former prisoner Jason Rezaian's brother tonight.
ALI REZAIAN: I'm thankful the administration did everything they could to bring Jason home and the others as well.
MITCHELL: But does it damage US credibility as Ronald Reagan is accused of doing in the Iran Contra crisis? A no ransom policy the Obama White House sticks to when refusing to bargain with ISIS.
JAMES JEFFREY: You should never pay ransom for hostages. I'm concerned the Iranians might think that's the deal they got.
[Cuts back to live]
MITCHELL: The White House says this deal actually saved the taxpayers billions in interest and penalty. Because an international court was about to impose that on the US for dragging its heels. Still it is a toxic issue to erupt for a former secretary of state this close to the election. Savannah?