ABC Blends 'Bombshell' Hillary E-mail Development Into 2016 Coverage

Friday's World News Tonight set aside the least amount of air time to the State Department's revelation that at least 22 of the e-mails on Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server contained top-secret information. The ABC program devoted a total of one minute and 28 seconds to the development. Jonathan Karl folded his coverage of the story into a segment about the Democratic presidential race in Iowa. Less than half of the correspondent's report — one minute and 10 seconds — dealt with the ongoing scandal. The newscast also led with Donald Trump skipping the Republican debate, instead of the e-mail issue [video below].

The same evening, NBC Nightly News and CBS Evening News put their Big Three counterpart to shame by airing segments that focused mainly on this latest development. The reports from NBC's Andrea Mitchell and CBS's Nancy Cordes also led each of their network's evening newscasts.

ABC anchor David Muir teased Karl's report by touting the "breaking news tonight: with just three days until Iowa, now, the bombshell development involving Hillary Clinton — the top-secret e-mails." Moments later, Muir's lead-in to the segment hinted at the correspondent's approach to the story: "Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, neck and neck in the polls in Iowa, trading places at the top all week long...as I mentioned, Hillary Clinton dealing with a new headline from the State Department — now saying nearly two dozen e-mails are now labeled top secret; and e-mails with the President now being kept private."

Karl first noted that "Hillary Clinton is pleading for support to fend off a surging Bernie Sanders in Iowa....But as she rallies supporters here, a bombshell of bad news for Clinton from Washington: the State Department declared top secret 22 of the e-mails from the private account she used as secretary of state." He soon added that "none of the e-mails were marked classified at the time; but now, the State Department is examining whether or not they should have been. And today, the Clinton campaign pushed back hard, denying the e-mails are truly top secret."

The ABC journalist then spent the rest of the pre-recorded portion of his report on Clinton versus Sanders. Muir ended the segment by turning to Karl live and asking about the "e-mails with the President now being kept private," as he put it during his lead-in.

On NBC Nightly News, Andrea Mitchell also used the "bombshell" term during her report on the Clinton e-mail scandal. She noted that the State Department made its release while "Hillary Clinton was campaigning in Iowa," and included excerpts from Lester Holt's interview of the former first lady.

Holt asked Mrs. Clinton, "Anything can happen. Indictments could happen. Why shouldn't people, as they weigh the electability question, worry about this hanging over your head as you march forward?" He followed up by wondering, "For people who are watching this play out, and know the Republicans will come at you on this with an open investigation, shouldn't people have some concern?"

Mitchell later underlined that "Republicans are pouncing" in the wake of the State Department announcement. She concluded by noting that "the State Department won't be releasing these e-mails now and may never. But this reignites the e-mail issue just as the voters are about to have their say."

Several minutes later, Holt turned to Face the Nation host Chuck Todd, who spun the latest development in the e-mail controversy:

LESTER HOLT: ...Chuck, back to the Clinton e-mails: it's a scandal that won't go away, but does it resonate with voters?

CHUCK TODD: You know, that's unclear, but I will say this: timing and innuendo are not her friend here — just 72 hours before caucus night; just when Democrats are having this conversation about electability. I was at a Sanders event today. Bernie Sanders spends a lot of time on it, because he thinks that issue has been hurting him. Hillary Clinton has been making that issue.

But then, here comes this e-mail issue. Here comes (sic) real questions. There's uncertainty. You see the words 'top secret,' but we don't know much about it. That's what frustrates the Clinton campaign, Lester — is that they feel as if once all of it is out, it will be easy to explain. But right now, 72 hours before the caucus, it isn't. And I've talked to plenty of Democrats that are undecided — at events for Clinton and Sanders — who say to me — you know, one of the hesitations on Clinton is this stuff that's always around her.

Well, e-mails is part of that stuff; and frankly, right now, it looks like a bit of a mess for the Clinton campaign to explain. They can explain it away, but the timing is rough.

Tell the Truth 2016

Nancy Cordes's report on CBS Evening News stood out for including a clip of Mrs. Clinton's now-infamous claim during a March 2015 press conference at the United Nations: "I did not e-mail any classified material to anyone on my e-mail. There is no classified material." Cordes also cited how an unnamed "intelligence official tells CBS News that some of the information in them is so sensitive...that Clinton and her aides should have known never to discuss it over an unsecured system in the first place."

The full transcripts of Jonathan Karl's report from ABC's World News Tonight, along with David Muir's 18-second mention of the e-mail story prior to the report on Trump; Andrea Mitchell's report from NBC Nightly News; and Nancy Cordes's report from CBS Evening News — all of which aired on January 29, 2016:

01/29/2016
06:31 pm EST
ABC — World News Tonight
Duration: 18 seconds

DAVID MUIR: We begin tonight with two major developments in the race for 2016 — the two front-runners on each side — three days to go now until Iowa. Hillary Clinton and the bombshell reveal  from the State Department today late today — 22 e-mails from her private server have now been labeled by the State Department as — quote, 'top secret.'


06:34 pm EST
Duration: 2 minutes, 28 seconds; 1 minute, 10 seconds to e-mails issue

DAVID MUIR: Also, on the Democratic side tonight, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, neck and neck in the polls in Iowa, trading places at the top all week long. And this evening, as I mentioned, Hillary Clinton dealing with a new headline from the State Department — now saying nearly two dozen e-mails are now labeled top secret; and e-mails with the President now being kept private. Meantime tonight, Bernie Sanders hoping to capitalize on young people and their support in getting out the vote.

ABC's chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl in Iowa on the Clinton e-mails.

HILLARY CLINTON, (D), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (from campaign stop): Thank you. I need you to come caucus Monday night.

JONATHAN KARL (voice-over): Hillary Clinton is pleading for support to fend off a surging Bernie Sanders in Iowa.

CLINTON: Bring a buddy to caucus.

KARL: But as she rallies supporters here, a bombshell of bad news for Clinton from Washington: the State Department declared top secret 22 of the e-mails from the private account she used as secretary of state.

JOHN KIRBY, SPOKESMAN, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT (from press briefing): The documents are being upgraded at the request of the intelligence community.

KARL: None of the e-mails were marked classified at the time; but now, the State Department is examining whether or not they should have been. And today, the Clinton campaign pushed back hard, denying the e-mails are truly top secret — saying, in a statement, 'This appears to be over-classification run amok.'

Mrs. Clinton, herself, had no comment. In fact, when we caught up with her before the e-mail news broke, she wouldn't even answer this.

KARL (on-camera, from Clinton campaign event): Secretary Clinton, what's it going to take to win? What do you have to do between now and Monday to win, Secretary Clinton?

KARL (voice-over): Just three days before the Iowa caucuses—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE CLINTON CAMPAIGN VOLUNTEER: Just leave your phone number as well—

KARL: Clinton volunteers were signing up supporters outside this rally in Des Moines

KARL (on-camera): So for every person coming into this rally, the campaign will have their names, phone numbers, addresses — and more importantly, specifically when they're willing to volunteer.

KARL (voice-over): As for Bernie Sanders—

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (from campaign stop): Thank you very much. We were told there were going to be a few people here. (audience laughs)

KARL: He's urging volunteers to pull out the stops to get his supporters to the caucus.

SANDERS: Beg, borrow, kidnap — do whatever you have to do. (audience laughs) Kidnapping illegal here in Iowa? (audience laughs)

MUIR (live) Very tight race on the Democratic side. Jon Karl now with us live from Iowa — and Jon, back to those Clinton e-mails: the State Department today also said it would not release 18 e-mails between Secretary Clinton and the President?

KARL: Yeah. These were e-mails directly between Secretary Clinton and the President. They were very careful to say these were not classified; but because they involve the President, they are presidential records; and David, won't be released until years after President Obama leaves office.

MUIR: All right. Jon Karl live in Iowa — Jon, we'll see you soon.


01/29/2016
07:01 pm EST
NBC Nightly News
Duration: 2 minutes, 21 seconds

LESTER HOLT: Three days from a critical vote here in Iowa, and the Hillary Clinton camp finds itself back under the cloud of the e-mail controversy — minutes after Secretary Clinton told me, in an exclusive interview here in Des Moines today, that there is nothing regarding the e-mail investigation that should cause voters to have any concerns, the State Department confirmed for the first time that some of the e-mails found on Clinton's personal e-mail server from her days as secretary of state contained information so secret they fell under the highest level of classification.

NBC's Andrea Mitchell has details.

ANDREA MITCHELL (voice-over): As Hillary Clinton was campaigning in Iowa, the State Department dropped the e-mail bombshell — for the first time, labeling 22 e-mails from her private server 'top secret' — the highest level of classification — as demanded by the intelligence agencies.

JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON (from press briefing): None of this traffic was marked classified at the time it was sent.

MITCHELL: Just minutes earlier, Lester had asked Clinton about how the e-mail investigation might affect her campaign.

HOLT (from pre-recorded interview): Anything can happen. Indictments could happen. Why shouldn't people, as they weigh the electability question, worry about this hanging over your head as you march forward?

CLINTON: Because the facts have remained the same. There was never any information sent or received that was marked classified to me.

HOLT: For people who are watching this play out, and know the Republicans will come at you on this with an open investigation, shouldn't people have some concern?

CLINTON: No, they shouldn't, Lester. I just don't see it as anything that will, in any way, cause any voter to — a voter with an open mind — to have any concerns.

MITCHELL: Clinton's campaign called it a bureaucratic turf battle.

BRIAN FALLON, CLINTON CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY: These e-mails should be released, so that the public can view them. This is an example of over-classification run amok.

MITCHELL: Republicans are pouncing. Jeb Bush Tweeted, 'We need a President who can be trusted to keep our secrets secret. Obviously, that's not Hillary Clinton.' And Marco Rubio said—

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (from campaign event): This is unacceptable. This is a disqualifier.

MITCHELL: Bernie Sanders's campaign says he stands by this.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (from October 13, 2015 Democratic presidential debate on CNN): The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails. (audience applauds)

CLINTON: Thank you — me too; me, too.

MITCHELL (on-camera): The State Department won't be releasing these e-mails now and may never. But this reignites the e-mail issue just as the voters are about to have their say. Lester?

HOLT: All right, Andrea.


01/29/2016
06:31 pm EST
CBS Evening News
Duration: 2 minutes, 30 seconds

SCOTT PELLEY: The e-mail controversy began last year, when we learned that Hillary Clinton used an unsecured home server for official e-mails while secretary of state. The State Department is releasing the e-mails — but today, it said that after review, 22 of them contained top-secret information. The State Department says the e-mails were not labeled classified back when they were sent. But today's revelation raises questions about Clinton's decision to use her private system for public business. It is the last thing she needs three days before Iowa.

Nancy Cordes is with Clinton tonight on the campaign trail.

HILLARY CLINTON, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (from campaign event): Hello, everybody!

NANCY CORDES (voice-over): Just before Clinton took the stage in Dubuque, State Department spokesman John Kirby announced that seven e-mail chains from her private account — totaling 37 pages — were being upgraded to top secret.

JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN (from press briefing): And in consultation with the intelligence community, we are making this upgrade. And we believe it's the prudent, responsible thing to do.

CORDES: Top secret is one of the highest levels of classification — reserved for material that, if released, would cause 'exceptionally grave damage to the national security.' The e-mails resided on Clinton's private server at her home in Chappaqua, New York for years — until she turned over 55,000 pages at the department's request.

CLINTON (from press conference at the United Nations): I did not e-mail any classified material to anyone on my e-mail. There is no classified material.

CORDES: In a statement today, her campaign called the move, 'over-classification run amok' — 'the result of bureaucratic infighting' — arguing that 'in at least one case, the e-mails appear to involve information from a published news article.'

Kirby would not share the topic of the e-mails, or whether Clinton was the sender or receiver.

KIRBY: I'm not going to get into debating or discussing candidates one way or the other on the campaign trail.

CORDES: He said the e-mails will be withheld from public view and not blacked out piecemeal — like hundreds of other Clinton e-mails that have already been released.

CORDES (on-camera): The Clinton campaign argues these e-mails should be released, at least in part. But an intelligence official tells CBS News that some of the information in them is so sensitive, Scott, that Clinton and her aides should have known never to discuss it over an unsecured system in the first place.

PELLEY: Nancy Cordes on the road in Iowa — Nancy, thank you.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center