More on ABC’s Syrian Story from Our Pros

Hooman Majd

Author, The Ayatollahs’ Democracy: An Iranian Challenge

I would say that the segment Muir did was exactly what network news should be all about. Not only is it a newsworthy topic, given what at least one candidate is saying in the presidential campaign, and reflects on the fears Americans might have about refugees, but it is ultimately a quintessential American story, one that could have been told 100 years ago. And if you believe the mandate of network news is, as originally conceived, to be a public service and for the public good without regard for commerce, then this story, reminding us who we are and who we aspire to be, fits right in. Far more so than why Brad and Angelina had a marriage that could not endure. I would give props to ABC for pursuing it.

Ken Auletta

Author and The New Yorker Annals of Communication writer

I watched the David Muir segment and was not troubled to see it included in the nightly news segment. I did think it dwelled too much in the beginning on the soft, feel-good news of a young Syrian girl being welcomed into an American classroom, and I thought this was a bit of a trick to attract viewers. But the piece showed how Syrian refugees were vetted by the State Department in Jordan, which gets at a central issue: Do we know who these people are before they arrive in America from a country where ISIS is strong? The piece also displayed the deep divisions between hopeful and fearful Americans.

Jack Laurence

Former correspondent CBS and ABC

I watched it several times. Since I am not accustomed to watching TV news in this form, much of the story flashed by in a blur, too stylized and compressed for me to take in clearly. Maybe American viewers have adjusted to this kind of fast-paced TV news reporting, but I have not.

The piece ran about 4:30. Of that, what was billed as the most important element–the “vetting process” of refugees heading for the USA–took up about 1:30. The rest was background about Hala and her family trying to settle in Modesto, Trump and others who feel threatened demanding that refugees be sent back, and other history. That took up two-thirds of the report. The story about the vetting process was short. Showing us how Syrians receive “cultural orientation” was amusing, but it is not the central issue of the story. Nor is their documentation. If the nuts and bolts of the screening process are too sensitive to be shown on WNT, then say so. (I suspect there may be State Department limitations on what can be revealed about the screening process in Amman lest the rules be made public for the bad guys to take advantage of.)

I would have built more of the story around the comment of the young woman in Amman who said, “We want to be one of you.” That said a lot, not only by showing her humanity, but also the honorable intentions of desperate foreigners who are trying to come to America.

There was no one interviewed who could say that strict measures are being taken to block terrorists from getting in, only that the interviewers are very professional.

What was not mentioned in the report is the fact that American authorities want to show the billion people in the world whose religious faith is Muslim that we are a tolerant, understanding society, that we have big hearts, even if some of our politicians and citizens do not.

Journalists also have a responsibility to make it more widely known that terrorist violence has existed in America for many years: from the earliest political assassinations (presidents especially) to the anarchist bombing movement to the KKK to the Weather Underground to the Oklahoma bombing atrocity. It is a menace our law enforcement authorities have dealt with many times. For politicians to play on people’s fears by exaggerating the threat and making promises that can’t be kept is opportunism of the worst kind. Stories like this one on ABC News could help to set the record straight.

That said, these types of stories should be reported at length in the evening news broadcasts. The subject matter in this case is important to Americans and to the rest of the world. ABC News is to be commended for following the story for a year and for devoting this much time to the issue.”