CBS and NBC Bash Netanyahu on Election Night; ‘Could Destroy’ Chances for Peace with Obama, Palestinians

In their coverage of the election in Israel, the CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News took aim at incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday night by, among other things, framing him as the candidate with a campaign pledge that “could destroy any chance” of forging peace with the Obama administration and the Palestinians, respectively.

NBC Nightly News interim anchor Lester Holt declared in the show’s first tease by fretting that “[t]he dramatic finish to a fight for power” has ended with “the last-minute threat that could destroy any chance of a peace plan.”

Leading into a report by correspondent Andrea Mitchell from Tel Aviv, Holt ruled that the “high-stakes showdown” between Netanyahu and his rivals “has left years of American peace efforts in the Middle East teetering on the brink” after Netanyahu “shut the door on a two-state peace solution, rejecting an idea of a Palestinian state, long a key pillar of American diplomacy in the region.”

Mitchell began her report by scolding the Prime Minister and Likud Party leader for ending the campaign with a “desperate appeal to his hard-line base” and “swerv[ing] farther right” by making the statement about rejecting a Palestinian state. She then expressed disappointment with him for “reversing decades of promises by Israeli leaders to American presidents, from Carter to Obama.”

Turning to his speech on March 3 to the U.S. Congress, Mitchell had more liberal, anti-Likud talking points to spin: “And of course, there was that American campaign stop. His controversial speech to Congress. Netanyahu was right to worry. Tonight, many voters told me they wanted a better economy and were ready for change.”

After two inteviews with anti-Netanyahu voters to only one for Netanyahu, Mitchell brought the segment to close by giving her thoughts on a possible Netanyahu victory over Isaac Herzog and the Zionist Union Party by warning that: “This has profound implications that could mean the end of peace with the Palestinians, the end of peace with President Obama, and change the course of history in the Middle East for years to come.”

CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley started CBS’s coverage of the election by throwing cold water on Netanyahu’s declared victory by telling viewers that “the truth is, it’s close.” 

Making sure to label Netanyahu a “conservative,” Pelley played up the incumbent as having “vowed there will never be a Palestinian state, and he says the Obama administration is giving away too much in its negotiations to stop an Iranian atomic bomb” while Herzog “focused more on the weak Israeli economy.”

Reporting from Israel, Barry Petersen made sure to bring up how some have referred to Netanyahu as a “racist” for opposing a two-state solution and portraying Netanyahu as against peace. Before tossing back to Pelley, Petersen painted a grim situation for Israel and peace in the region if Netanyahu is reelected:

Peace will be hard. Netanyahu is opposed to a Palestinian state. His chief opponent Herzog says he would support it, and all the other parties have their own differing views. I have to say, Scott, not a lot of optimism on this front.

Over on ABC’s World News Tonight, 59 seconds of airtime was devoted to the election. Anchor David Muir wondered if Netanyahu’s speech before Congress backfired after “[i]t was supposed to help him back home.”

Foreign correspondent Alex Marquardt reported from the election night headquarters of Netanyahu’s Likud Party and described Netanyahu’s speech as having “infuriated the Obama administration” with a Netanyahu victory serving as “a disappointment to them.” 

Unlike Petersen and Mitchell, however, Marquardt admitted that Netanyahu “has a good chance of remaining Israeli’s Prime Minister” and also: “[T]hough we don't have the official results for another two days, Netanyahu has already declared victory, and now will try to get other parties to join his coalition, so he can stay on at Prime Minister.”

In one final note, none of the networks mentioned that former Obama campaign aide Jeremy Bird has been working for a liberal Israeli organization to try and defeat Netanyahu.

The relevant portions of the tease and segment from March 17's NBC Nightly News are transcribed below.

NBC Nightly News
March 17, 2015
7:00 p.m. Eastern [TEASE]

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: Breaking News]

LESTER HOLT: On this Tuesday night, breaking news. The dramatic finish to a fight for power in Israel and the last-minute threat that could destroy any chance of a peace plan. 

(....)

7:01 p.m. Eastern

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: High Stakes]

HOLT: Good evening on this very busy news night, we begin with a high-stakes showdown that tonight has left years of American peace efforts in the Middle East teetering on the brink. Even with the votes from today’s Israeli election still being counted, Benjamin Netanyahu took to Twitter tonight to declare himself the winner. If he does prevail, the implications are enormous, because just before today's vote, Netanyahu, locked in a tight race, publicly shut the door on a two-state peace solution, rejecting an idea of a Palestinian state, long a key pillar of American diplomacy in the region. We begin tonight with our chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell in Tel Aviv. 

ANDREA MITHCELL: It was a dramatic finish to a frantic three-month campaign, capped by Benjamin Netanyahu's desperate appeal to his hard-line base. In a rare election day appearance, the Prime Minister said, “go out masses to the ballots.” Pleading with his supporters to offset what he called extremist Israeli-Arab candidates. As late polls showed him losing ground, Netanyahu swerved farther right, pledging to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state, reversing decades of promises by Israeli leaders to American presidents, from Carter to Obama

(....)

MITCHELL: And of course, there was that American campaign stop. His controversial speech to Congress. Netanyahu was right to worry. Tonight, many voters told me they wanted a better economy and were ready for change. 

(....)

MITCHELL: Even though as the votes are counted, it still may be a tie. He has more natural allies with whom to form a coalition. This has profound implications that could mean the end of peace with the Palestinians, the end of peace with President Obama, and change the course of history in the Middle East for years to come.

The relevant portions of the transcript from the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley on February 17 can be found below.

CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley
March 17, 2015
6:33 p.m. Eastern

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: Israeli Election]

PELLEY: Tonight, an election with big implications for the United States is a cliffhanger. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is claiming victory but the truth is, it's close. Netanyahu is a conservative who vowed there will never be a Palestinian state, and he says the Obama administration is giving away too much in its negotiations to stop an Iranian atomic bomb. His opponent focused more on the weak Israeli economy.

(....)

BARRY PETERSEN:  Netanyahu battled to the end, issuing a last-minute appeal to his supporters, claiming that Arab-Israelis, who make up 20 percent of the population, were being bussed to polls by his opponents, a comment one Arab-Israeli leader called racist, but for the Elias family, the boys were wearing hats supporting Netanyahu, it worked. “The Arabs will take over if Netanyahu is not elected,” said Tavas. For one voter, the election was not about issues. It was personal. Michael Keider is a widow. Her college sweetheart husband, Lieutenant Colonel Dolev Keider, father of their three children was killed in the Gaza War last summer.

(....)

PETERSEN: She voted with Dolev on her mind and words not heard much in this campaign.

KEIDER: Force leads to more hate, and hate leads to more force and bloodshed. The only solution is peace.

PETERSEN: Peace will be hard. Netanyahu is opposed to a Palestinian state. His chief opponent Herzog says he would support it, and all the other parties have their own differing views. I have to say, Scott, not a lot of optimism on this front.

NBDaily Campaigns & Elections Israel/Palestine Racism Religion Islam Judaism ABC World News Tonight CBS CBS Evening News NBC NBC Nightly News Video Lester Holt Andrea Mitchell Scott Pelley Barry Petersen Alex Marquardt David Muir Benjamin Netanyahu
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