NBC Misses Opportunity to Add Depth to North Korean Conflict

On April 3, a day after President Trump commented on confronting North Korea, NBC featured reports of increasing tensions between North Korea and the United States. NBC led with a report from an American base in South Korea that showed how the U.S. is preparing for a potential conflict.

“President Trump, yesterday, dramatically turned up the heat over North Korea’s nuclear threat, saying the U.S. is prepared to confront the Kim Jong Un regime alone,” said Lester Holt. NBC’s report –the first 7:40 of the broadcast– conveyed a high sense of urgency.

“The Korean Peninsula is a tinderbox,” said Bill Richardson, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. “Any miscalculation could result in a conflict that could affect American troops.”

NBC included an interview with the former North Korean Ambassador to the U.K. about Kim Jong Un.

“Once he sees that there is any kind of sign of attack or imminent threat from America then he would, you know, use his nuclear weapons,” said Thae Yong Ho, a high profile North Korean defector.

Lester Holt added urgency, referring to the troops at the South Korean base and turning to “an exclusive look at the ominous threat and how they prepare to confront it.”

NBC’s final soundbite from a high ranking military official helped provide proper context.

“I’ve never seen greater concern, from a regional perspective, about the threat that is being posed by North Korea,” said Adm. Scott Swift, the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander.

In contrast, ABC’s story about a trip inside North Korea that same day that lacked a similar urgency. “The U.S. and South Korean Troops continued to conduct joint military exercises,” said Bob Woodruff, ABC’s reporter. He indicated no changes from the U.S. side.

“[Trump’s] comments come after the North Koreans have made a show of testing several ballistic missiles during the beginning of the Trump administration,” said Woodruff.

CBS did not cover the story until Apr. 5, two days later when North Korea tested an old ballistic missile.

“These are very concerning moments for me because every time they launch, we’re not sure if this is a threat missile or not,” said Gen. John Hyten on CBS.

Did NBC’s coverage express too much urgency?

“It [fell] into the category of creating urgency instead of real insight,” said NPR’s David Folkenflik. “A lot of times American news organizations want to convey a sense of urgency about lands that are distant as a way of conveying to their viewers that people should care.”

Folkenflik also thought NBC’s coverage relied too heavily on the words of government officials.

“It felt like they adopted the publicly articulated mindset of the national security leadership,” said Folkenflik, who wanted to hear more diverse perspectives on the matter. “[It was] insufficiently independent to the American approach to things.”

Ultimately, Folkenflik thought NBC wasted an opportunity to inform viewers.

“I don’t feel that viewers walked away with an incredibly enriched understanding of the conflict,” said Folkenflik, who felt the tone of ABC’s report was better. “On ABC, Bob Woodruff, who has been to North Korea several times, reflected a skepticism towards the North Koreans.”

Jon Mednick

Jon Mednick is a senior broadcast journalism and marketing double major from Reisterstown, Maryland. He is currently a video editor at CBS affiliate WUSA9 in Washington, D.C. where he has been working for almost two years. Jon has worked with Pulsefeedz, the Left Bench, Capital News Service and WMUC Sports in his four years at Maryland. After he graduates in May, Jon would like continue pursuing a career in sports broadcasting. He can be reached at @J_Mednick on Twitter.

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