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REPORT: Broadcast News Networks Misrepresent Intelligence On Iranian Nuclear Issues

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But these reporting failures also pervade more traditional outlets: the evening broadcasts of network news.


Out of 51 total segments (11 for World News, 22 for Evening News, and 18 for Nightly News), 31 percent gave the false impression that Iran either currently has a nuclear weapons program or will soon have the bomb.

For example, ABC anchor Diane Sawyer introduced a November 8, 2011 story on this topic with this: "And now, a long-dreaded headline about Iran and nuclear weapons. After a decade of debating whether Iran would build one, a U.N. report says tonight they will, and it has begun."

On December 5, 2011, CBS anchor Scott Pelley said during a broadcast of the Evening News that "U.S. intelligence is spying intensely on Iranian sites believed to be developing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles." He continued, "There's concern that Iran is developing missiles to carry a future nuclear weapon."

And Nightly News correspondent Ali Arouzi reported on January 8, 2012: "Iran announced today that it had begun to enrich uranium at a second underground facility well protected from possible airstrikes. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but the West suspects Iran of developing a nuclear weapons program."

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The three network news shows invoked Ahmadinejad to a lesser extent, but these insertions were no less problematic. Twenty-four percent of all segments made the Iranian president a part of their stories on this topic.

For example, all three networks reported stories that covered Ahmadinejad's showboating over nuclear achievements in the middle of February. Nightly News' Williams began a story on February 15, 2012 with this: "Tonight, tensions over Iran's nuclear program are running hot after the Iranian President Ahmadinejad made a big show at a Tehran nuclear site showing off his country's new hardware, claiming other advances at a second nuclear facility. Further proof that Iran wants to join the club of nuclear nations despite global pressure and tough sanctions intended to stop it."

In a February 11, 2012 story, CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano similarly ran with a tease from the Iranian president, reporting that "President Ahmadinejad promised there would be word of major nuclear achievements within the next few days." ABC went with a similar story that day. Anchor David Muir reported: "Mahmoud Ahmadinejad telling the Iranians that Iran will soon make a major nuclear announcement, unveiling, in his words, a big new nuclear achievement."


Media Matters reviewed Nexis transcripts between November 8, 2011 (the day that coverage picked up after the IAEA issued its report) and March 31, 2012 for segments on ABC's World News, CBS' Evening News, and NBC's Nightly News about Iran and its nuclear program. All applicable segments were reviewed for discussion of weaponization and mentions of Ahmadinejad.

Segments that assumed Iran had an active nuclear weapons program or stated that the country would obtain the bomb in less than a year were coded as misrepresenting the facts. Segments that speculated on the consequences if Iran were to develop nuclear weapons were also included because such speculation ignores that no evidence has surfaced to suggest that Iran intends to build nukes.

Any segment that mentioned Ahmadinejad in any capacity was coded as unnecessarily connecting the Iranian president to the country's nuclear program.

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Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.

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The critical issue is whether "the media" "express... by BFalcon on Saturday, Apr 21, 2012 at 10:10:26 AM