ABC calls out Trump’s contradiction on leaks
On Feb. 15, CBS and NBC highlighted President Trump’s praise of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, despite his recent firing amid controversy. This issue was over his contact with the Russian ambassador before Inauguration Day.
The networks pointed out Trump’s blame of the media for treating Flynn unfairly and reporting leaked information. Each network reported Trump saying, “Things are being leaked. It’s criminal action, criminal act, and it’s been going on for a long time.”
Trump’s claim comes amidst a reported FBI investigation on whether anyone on Trump’s staff communicated with Russian intelligence during the campaign. All three networks noted this and showed responses from Republican senators.
Only ABC pointed out that Trump was at odds with his statements during the campaign. It compiled Trump’s praises for WikiLeaks that contained information about Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Trump used this against her during the election season.
By doing this, did ABC add crucial information to its broadcast, or was this simply an interesting aside?
“In terms of that broadcast, I think ABC smartly folded that in as context,” said NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik.
Folkenflik added that it was valuable and valid for ABC to contrast Trump’s embrace of leaks about relatively minor issues related to Clinton with his outrage about leaks that brought down his national security officer.
Trump said in October, “WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks!” and “It’s been amazing what’s coming out on WikiLeaks.” This is in stark contrast to Trump’s current view on the leaks within his own administration.
Folkenflik said adding context is valuable for viewers, and it’s worth comparing what politicians promise in a campaign trail to what they do in office.
“Context, carefully, responsibly, adds heft to a story, as long as you’re making it with care and not cherry-picking incidents,” he said.
Former CBS vice president for standards Linda Mason said ABC should be careful not to use this trick too many times.
“I thought the Trump insert on ABC was more information but it also could have been interpreted as a cheap shot…like a dig at him,” Mason said. “I don’t think it was wrong, but I don’t think it was necessary.”
Both Mason and Folkenflik noted that CBS and NBC took different angles to the Flynn story on Feb. 15, making the WikiLeaks piece a nice, but not crucial, touch.
“It would probably be a problem if the three newscasts did everything identically all the time,” said Folkenflik. “In that case you’re just getting three different flavors of the same thing. I’d rather they pay attention to different elements.”
Mason said she thought CBS and NBC moved the story forward, while ABC presented a surface-level analysis to the president’s words.
“I don’t think ABC was wrong. I don’t think ABC did enough,” she said. “ABC got so wrapped up in his previous leak remark that they didn’t move the story forward.”