Where Do NBC News Exclusives Lead?

NBC gave significant air time to several “exclusive” stories during President Donald Trump’s first 100 days, but were they really that significant?

NBC investigative correspondent Cynthia McFadden reported three exclusive stories that ABC and CBS either overlooked or covered slightly.

On February 10 ABC and CBS led with the possibility of a new travel ban. However, NBC led with a story on Russian officials “considering” the idea of turning over Edward Snowden to the U.S.

NBC anchor Lester Holt called the Snowden story an exclusive and said the network received the information from two senior government officials. Holt asked, “What would Russia expect in return for a man seen by some here as a traitor and others a hero?”

McFadden said the Russians were considering offering Snowden “as a gift” to President Donald Trump. She said two senior officials had reviewed and confirmed the details from intelligence reports.

McFadden noted that the intelligence came after the inauguration.

“The sources say Russia has been formulating various ploys to curry favor with the new president,” she said.

Snowden’s lawyer, Ben Wizner, said, “Team Snowden has received no such signals and has no new reason for concern.”

NBC showed Snowden in December saying he wasn’t worried that he could be offered to Trump “as a present.

“The justice department told NBC News the U.S. would welcome Snowden’s return.” McFadden then said, “The Kremlin told us the talk of returning Snowden to the United States was nonsense and the White House had no comment.”

NBC’s nearly two-and-a-half minute story was the only report on the three major networks. None have revisited the story.

Was this just the lead on a slow news day, or was NBC trying to make the story bigger than it was?

Former ABC News national correspondent John Martin said the Snowden story has the “potential” to exceed the coverage of the travel ban.

“Properly substantiated, it remains a shocking new development in an important story of Russian attempts to curry favor with the Trump Administration,” Martin said.

On April 7 NBC made much of another “exclusive: the “Top Secret” U.S. military options for action against North Korea.

McFadden said multiple intelligence and military officials had told NBC, “If diplomacy fails with North Korea, President Trump’s National Security Council has presented him with some highly controversial courses of action.”

She explained each of the three options and their possible problems:

  1. Placing U.S. nuclear weapons in South Korea, which would be an “aggressive show of force.” McFadden explained that the U.S. had removed nuclear weapons from the area at the end of the Cold War.
  2. The second option is assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and officials in charge of military weapons.

    Screenshot from NBC News YouTube Channel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUC55sgUa5k

  3. U.S. and South Korea taking covert action to disrupt the movement of mobile missiles.

McFadden said the CIA “could offer no guidance on this option.”

She concluded that these options depend on China’s pressure on North Korea and that the issue is on the sidelines due to the action in Syria.

If these are “Top Secret” military options, why is NBC reporting on it? Are they making a big mistake by releasing this information?

Martin said when something is classified as “Top Secret” it’s “not an automatic no-fly zone for journalists.” He explained how the Pentagon Papers were leaked even though they were “Top Secret, but it helped Americans see the war in a different light.

In a third NBC “exclusive”, on April 13, Holt explained the U.S. is prepared to make a preemptive strike to stop North Korea from testing another nuclear weapon. 

McFadden explained that senior intelligence officials said the U.S. military is on high alert and that North Korea could conduct an underground nuclear test.

Screenshot from NBC News YouTube Channel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjQgpzMZbnE

As a precaution, she reported, the U.S. military has positioned two destroyers in range of the nuclear site, that U.S. bombers are located in Guam, and that aircraft carrier the USS Carl Vinson Strike Group has moved to the area.

 “If U.S. intelligence detects that a nuclear test is imminent, the White House is considering, for the first time in history, a preemptive strike to prevent it,” McFadden said. “This strike could consist of missiles and bombs, cyber and special operations on the ground.”

“The decision to broadcast these stories inevitably involves weighing whether the source is truly in position to know the facts,” Martin said. “NBC News has certainly made that determination, hence the stories. Otherwise, this would be a serious breach of professional safeguards.”


More from John Martin:

  • Why NBC News chose to lead with the Snowden story is known only to the people who made the decision. If true, it has a shocking quality about it that could merit leading the broadcast with it. That no one else has come forward with it puzzles me. I believe Cynthia McFadden has an excellent reputation. It may be too soon to make a judgment.
  • Stories about options under active government consideration have a respected place in journalism. President John F. Kennedy once complained that if The New York Times reporters who learned of preparations to invade Cuba with U.S.-trained exiles had published the story (they didn’t), he would have avoided the disastrous Bay of Pigs operation.
  • If CBS or ABC News had the same stories and had ascertained their authenticity, I believe they would have put them on the air.

Shelby Smith

Shelby Smith is a senior double major in Multi-platform Journalism and Film Studies at the University of Maryland. She was a sports copy editor for Unwind Magazine and has interned for Washington Gardener Magazine. She has studied how to capture, edit and upload pictures, videos and audio at College Park. Smith has reported on several beats, including politics, courts and city council meetings. She hopes to graduate this Spring, start her own entertainment podcast and to find a job as a public relations person in the film industry.

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