World Cup Media Partner ABC Downplays Violent Protests on 'World News' Story

All three major broadcast networks devoted stories to the opening of the World Cup today in Rio de Janeiro, but ABC's business interests arguably got in the way of objective reporting. ABC and her sister ESPN networks are, after all the exclusive "media rights licensees" to carry World Cup matches in the United States.

Reporting from Rio, ABC's Paula Faris devoted just one fleeting reference to the unrest in the streets (emphasis mine):

DIANE SAWYER, host: And tonight, 3 billion people, half the world's population, expected to watch the opening ceremony of the World Cup in Brazil, including a few loyal fans 230 miles above Earth.

Take a look, the NASA astronauts, right there, kicking a soccer ball in zero gravity, and saying they'll be watching from the space station. While back here on the ground, ABC's Paula Faris is there in Rio to tell us about the Americans who face a gauntlet of strong opposition but are hoping to deliver a miracle.

FARIS: The world's biggest event kicking off tonight with flair. And a huge fumble. Power house Brazil [DIRECTV transmission interruption] ball into its goal in the very first match. 

It's the first time they've hosted the world cup in 64 years.

Some protests, too. Police using stun grenades and tear gas on demonstrators.

Billions watching tonight around the globe and across the U.S...

By contrast, NBC's Bill Neely opened his reporting by focusing on the demonstrations, before transitioning to more positive aspects of the games (emphasis mine):

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: One of the most anticipated events in all of sports around the world got underway in Brazil today despite concerns for months that Brazil wouldn't be ready.

World Cup soccer started with pandemonium among the fans and some initial chaos and violence in the streets. The games will go on for a month. NBC's Bill Neely was watching it all today in Sao Paulo.

BILL NEELY: Stun grenades, tear gas, and protests, just miles from where Brazil's World Cup began, police fought demonstrators who were angry at the cost of the most extensive soccer tournament ever.

This is now how Brazil's festival of sport in front of a global audience was meant to start and there is no guarantee it will end here.

Brazil is struggling to contain the protests as its soccer carnival begins. It is the world's biggest single sports event, Brazil's fans joining half a million from 32 other countries including the U.S.

Today's opening ceremony was Brazil's chance to dazzle, the highlight, a paralyzed man who kicked the first ball. The scientists who made that happen showed NBC News exclusively the computerized suit the man wore. The patient's brain sending signals through the suit to move his legs.

Likewise CBS's Elaine Quijano opened her report focusing on the protests, even translating the complaints of two protesters before transitioning to others enjoying the opening of the festivities (emphasis mine):

SCOTT PELLEY, anchor: Soccer's World Cup opened today in Brazil with the host country beating Croatia, 3 to 1. Brazil has spent $11 billion on this month-long event, and today it made sure nothing would disrupt it. Elaine Quijano is in Sao Paulo. 

ELAINE QUIJANO, reporter: These demonstrators had planned to protest the most expensive World Cup in history. 

"We pay a lot of taxes, have low salaries," Luis Felipe said, "We are not listened to here. The people are fed up."

But they didn't get very far. Police stopped them in their tracks.

This is the neighborhood where protesters had advertised on Facebook that they wanted to gather. As you can see, they've been met with a heavy police presence here including percussion grenades and even at points tear gas.

That left many even more upset. "The basic needs of the population are not met," Rodrigo Antonio said. "We see that the freedom to protest is not guaranteed in Brazil."

But closer to the stadium, throngs of happy fans were oblivious to the protests, waving flags and blowing horns in support of the home team. Gustavo Sousa came dressed for the occasion.

Sports Bill Neely Elaine Quijano Paula Faris