ABC focuses on weaponry workings, looks past North Korean connection
In recent weeks, the U.S. has unleashed powerful weapons on the Middle East as a show of power and as a warning. In response to the April 4 chemical gas dropped on Syrian civilians, President Donald Trump authorized an airstrike of 60 Tomahawk missiles on Syria on April 6. Fifty-nine of them reached their targets – Syrian bases full of planes and weapons.
On April 13, the U.S. dropped the Massive Ordnance Air Blast, a 22-thousand pound bomb in Afghanistan in order to avoid sending ground troops into a confined area. The bomb, nicknamed the “Mother Of All Bombs,” is the largest non nuclear weapon the U.S. has used in combat.
Following both weapon attacks, ABC had Col. Stephen Ganyard explain how these weapons work and used graphics to show flight paths. On April 7, David Muir asked Ganyard, “They were guided by advanced navigation systems to avoid detection?”
Ganyard explained that the missiles flew over the Mediterranean Sea for between 30 to 40 minutes to reach their targets.
“The Pentagon offered President Trump several choices,” added Ganyard. “He could go with a very large strike with a sustained campaign, or he could do something very focused and send a message.”
After the Afghanistan bombing, ABC showed a test of the MOAB and explained that it gets dropped out of a C-130 cargo plane because of its size. Ganyard said the rugged terrain in Afghanistan makes it difficult for troops to get in on the ground.
CBS and NBC did similar reports, but tied the story to North Korea. ABC did not.
CBS anchor Scott Pelley said, “The impact could not have been lost on the young dictator of North Korea. Kim Jong-un is deciding whether to celebrate his country’s biggest holiday on Saturday with a missile or nuclear test. Asked whether he was sending a message to North Korea, President Trump said today, ‘It doesn’t make any difference. That problem will be taken care of.’”
NBC’s Lester Holt said, “A weapon designed as much for its psychological impact as its explosive punch could be sending a broader message, as the U.S. tonight also keeps a wary eye on North Korea.”
On April 14, ABC repeated its graphics and explanation of the bomb.
Should ABC have connected the bombing to North Korea’s upcoming holiday?
Starfish Media CEO Soledad O’Brien said there was no right or wrong way to do this.
“I didn’t think ABC lost anything by leaving out North Korea,” O’Brien wrote in an email, “and [they] probably felt they were better educating their audience around a detail in which they felt they had good expertise.”
However, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik said it demonstrated a tendency to marvel at the powerful nature of American weaponry.
“If you focus too much on the razzle dazzle and the incredible power and potency of this weapon, and you focus so much on the nickname and how it works,” Folkenflik said, “you overlook … the very question that its deployment raises, which is, ‘How are we doing in a conflict if we’ve been there for 15 years and now we are using the most powerful weapon America has ever used short of a nuclear weapon?’”
While Folkenflik thought the information ABC presented was interesting, he said it was “not satisfying journalistically on its own.” He said NBC and CBS explained the weaponry well enough to cue the audience in while still connecting to the North Korea story.
On April 17 ABC again brought Ganyard in to speculate on whether North Korea could “even pull off” weekly missile tests.
“They test for two reasons,” Ganyard said. “The first is to develop new missiles, but they also want to stay on the world stage and stay in people’s minds, and so they use old missiles. In 2016, they did that an average of once every two weeks, so once a week is not unreasonable.”
Folkenflik said this would be a good moment to explore whether the North Korean technology failed on its own or whether U.S. interference caused the failure. He said when something goes awry, even if for the benefit of the U.S., it is interesting to have technical questions answered.
“That’s one of the definitions of news; something that’s unexpected,” he added.
O’Brien agreed that this was a valuable story.
“Given the large number of failures of launches, combined with their threats — and even some speculation that the U.S. sabotages those launches — I thought it was worth discussing,” she said.
More from Soledad O’Brien:
- I think what ABC, CBS and NBC are all doing is to frame their coverage around their concept of what their viewers want to know. I don’t necessarily think there is a ‘right’ or a ‘wrong’ way to do it, and in fact, I’d guess their decisions are guided by a ton of research on their viewership.
- I thought each network did a good job. I think NOT tying the bombing to N Korea was not a miss (it had been covered extensively by cable all day) and I thought ABC’s info was useful and helpful. Also, they might feel their sources had more valuable info to give on the MOAB (again back to being a zero sum game for time in a newscast). They probably felt they had more valuable info to add.
More from David Folkenflik:
- I think that it’s interesting and sometimes it’s really impressive. I also think that that’s like a condiment, that’s not the main meal of what’s going on. It shouldn’t be the primary serving, it’s not nutritious enough.
- They’ve got a guy, who let’s presume is pretty knowledgeable… he’s going to be … it’s hard for him to do much better than the questions he’s asked to fulfill.
- And part of what ABC is doing is conditioning you to get used to him so that if crises break out you trust what he has to say. That’s not insidious, but that’s just the way it works.
- I do think a lot’s happening, but what you’re not seeing as much from ABC is pulling some of this together and saying ‘Why are we seeing all this happen at the same time?’