Not Enough Time for News

Last Updated by Michael Getler on

A viewer in Newport, R.I., Brian Jones, wrote to me last night to say: “Today, Thursday, Jan 5, was a consequential news day, and the NewsHour showed immense poor judgment in giving little time to the Senate hearing on hacking [and] the Trump tweets about it. Even with the lengthy interview with Biden, there was plenty of time to cover the hard news, instead of filling the last half-hour with three soft features. I'm disappointed, because I wanted in-depth coverage of the hard news.”

First, I should say that I was also surprised and, like the viewer, disappointed that there was so little coverage on the NewsHour last night after the nation’s top intelligence officers appeared in an open hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee about an issue—Russian hacking and interference in the U.S. election campaign—that has been on the front pages for many weeks and a source of widely-publicized and disturbing disagreement between the Obama administration and the intelligence services on one side and President-elect Trump on the other.

I assumed that, aside from the brief report in the program’s nightly, introductory news wrap-up, there would be an expanded segment to follow. But that was not the case. The hearing was front-page news all over the country but here is all the NewsHour reported:

ALISON STEWART: The director of national intelligence says he has — quote — “very high confidence” that Russia hacked Democratic Party computers in a bid to interfere with the U.S. election.

James Clapper spoke at a Senate hearing today with Admiral Mike Rogers of the National Security Agency. He also addressed President-elect Trump’s criticism of U.S. intelligence agencies.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D-MO.): Who actually is the benefactor of someone who is about to become the commander in chief trashing the intelligence community?

JAMES CLAPPER, Director of National Intelligence: I think there is an important distinction here between healthy skepticism, which policy-makers, to include policy-maker number one, should always have for intelligence, but I think there’s a difference between skepticism and disparagement.

ALISON STEWART: Clapper confirmed that President Obama has now received a final report on the issue.

Meanwhile, it was widely reported that former Indiana Senator Dan Coats is the president-elect’s choice for the next director of national intelligence.

Mr. Trump also walked back from his criticism of intelligence agencies. He tweeted — quote — “The media lies to make it look like I’m against intelligence, when, in fact, I’m a big fan.”

My Thoughts

As the viewer’s letter points out, yesterday was a big news day and the hearings in the Senate, with top officials speaking publicly after what were mainly background news reports in recent months about the consensus within the intelligence agencies, was important news. Clapper said, among other things, that “our assessment now is even more resolute” than it was at the outset—when the first official assessment was publicly announced on Oct. 7—that the Russians were behind the pre-election campaign interference and that the hacking, according to the New York Times report on the hearing, was only one part of the operation which, he said, included “classical propaganda, disinformation, fake news.”

The Washington Post quoted him as saying “whatever crack, fissure, they could find in our tapestry…they would exploit it.”

In short, this was a day—and a pre-scheduled, public event—in which senior politicians from both parties and top intelligence officials were able to question and address this crucial issue and the public was let in on it.

There was also no more detailed reporting on the NewsHour about President-elect Trump’s claim on Twitter that: “The media lies to make it look like I’m against intelligence, when, in fact, I’m a big fan.”

It was also announced on Thursday, but not in the broadcast, that former CIA Director R. James Woolsey Jr., an occasional guest on the NewsHour, resigned from his advisory position on the Trump transition team.

The interview with Vice President Joe Biden was a good one, touching on many subjects. But it ran for 23 minutes, taking up almost half of the 54-minute program. The other segments, all obviously planned well in advance and not time-sensitive, did not leave room for anything else. So, as I saw it, along with the viewer from Rhode Island, the news got short-changed on the NewsHour on a big news day.

Posted on Jan. 6, 2017 at 4:29 p.m.

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