On Monday evening, the broadcast networks began paying more attention to the anti-government protests in Iran, with ABC's World News Tonight and the CBS Evening News for the first time finally running full reports on the events. But ABC's piece also characterized President Donald Trump as "adding fuel to the fire" by tweeting out support for the protesters.
And, on a similar track, the NBC Nightly News touted Trump critics who argued that he should be more like President Barack Obama and avoid commenting on the demonstration -- as if that way of thinking somehow worked out in 2009 when Obama did it.
On ABC, after correspondent James Longman began the report by recalling that the protests had been a reaction to "alleged corruption and economic hardship" and then "morphed into a wider anti-regime movement," he referred to the possibility that the hardline clerics who run the country might crack down harder: "President Rouhani accepting marches whilst warning against violence. But in Iran, both civil and religious authorities rule, and the clerics promise an iron fist."
Longman then described Trump as "adding fuel to the fire" as the ABC correspondent continued: "President Trump adding fuel to the fire, tweeting: 'The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years They are hungry for food and for freedom. Time for change!'"
On NBC, correspondent Hallie Jackson also referred to Trump's tweet of support for the protesters:
President Trump seeming sympathetic to those protesters, tweeting today: "The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food and for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. Time for change!"
Then came a clip of Jackson with Douglas Ollivant, described as the "former national security advisor director for Iraq." Jackson asked: "Is that the best course of action for him?"
Ollivant complained about Trump's response: "Probably not. You know, let's face it, America is rather toxic inside Iran, and it might be more helpful for us to sit back and let this play out."
Jackson then recounted that Obama had handled the 2009 protests differently, without noting that his doing so accomplished nothing:
So far, Iran's protests are the biggest since the 2009 so-called "Green Movement." But that was different -- more urban, more centered on students. And the official U.S. response was different, too. Then-President Obama preferred a more cautious approach. This time, President Trump appears unafraid to insert himself into the unrest -- one that could end by tomorrow or perhaps stretch for weeks.
By contrast, on CNN Monday afternoon, when anchor Boris Sanchez asked former Obama advisor Dennis Ross if he beieved it was the "right approach" for Trump to send out tweets reminding Iran that "the world is watching," Ross voiced support for Trump's response and lamented that Obama did not have a similar immediate reaction to the 2009 protests. Ross:
I do. And, look, I was part of the decision-making process in 2009 in the Obama administration. We were getting messages from those of the Green Movement in Iran basically asking us to keep it cool because they already saw the regime try to create the impression that these were foreign-inspired, they weren't authentic, and weren't domestically driven. And I think, in retrospect, I think we made a mistake. We should have made it clear that, in fact, the world was watching.
If you go back, if you recall, that is the language that the Obama administration and the President began to use after the first week or so. But, initially, for the first several days, we were extremely low-key, and I think it was, as I said, I think in retrospect, I think it would have been better -- and I think, even now, one of the keys that we should be doing is not just saying that the world is watching, I think we should be putting out what Iran is spending. They spend, you know, about $800 million a year just on Hezbollah. What are they spending in Syria? These reflect the grievances on the inside.
Below are complete transcripts of the relevant reports that ran on the Monday, January 1, evening newscasts on ABC, CBS, and NBC:
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From ABC's World News Tonight:
TOM LLAMAS: Turning overseas now on a fifth day of deadly protests in Iran. President Trump in one of his first New Year's tweets saluting Iranians for demanding a change, Now, questions about how long those clashes will continue. ABC's James Longman reporting tonight from London.
JAMES LONGMAN: The fire is spreading in Iran, now in its fifth day of protests -- 12 dead and scores injured -- around 400 arrested so far. Demonstrations began Thursday over alleged corruption and economic hardship, Authorities responding, trying to cut off some social media access to stop crowds organizing rallies. But they have since morphed into a wider anti-regime movement. President Rouhani accepting marches whilst warning against violence.
But in Iran, both civil and religious authorities rule, and the clerics promise an iron fist. President Trump adding fuel to the fire, tweeting: "The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years They are hungry for food and for freedom. Time for change!"
With no clear leadership, it's hard to know how far these protests can go, but this is the most unrest Iran has seen since the so-called Green Revolution of 2009. Tom?
LLAMAS: James Longman for us tonight. James, thank you.
From the CBS Evening News
JERICKA DUNCAN: The President has also been tweeting his support for protesters in Iran. They have taken to the streets for five straight days, fed up with a bad economy and government corruption. State media says 12 people have been killed. Elizabeth Palmer covered the last big protest in Iran in 2009. She joins us from London. You know, what's behind the unrest?
ELIZABETH PALMER: Well, it started very small on Thursday in the regional city of Mashad -- as you say, a single demonstration against the economic hardship, especially the price of food. But overnight it just morphed and spread like wildfire to the capital, Tehran, where crowds vandalized the main shopping avenues, and to dozens of smaller cities across the country, which is very unusual.
The protesters are especially young people and the working poor, and they're angry about everything from corruption and unemployment to lack of freedom, and religious rule. The police have broken up protests here and there with water cannons, and they have arrested hundreds of people, but we have not yet anyway seen the kind of violent crackdown we saw in 2009 when security forces shot and killed people in the streets protesting the election results.
DUNCAN: And, Liz, how have police handled the protests this time?
PALMER: President Hassan Rouhani -- who is a moderate -- went on television yesterday with a surprisingly measured response. He said people did have a legitimate right to protest as long as there is no violence. Now, that may have been a warning to the security forces, too. This is a volatile, dangerous situation, and he knows a lethal crackdown could send it spiraling out of control. It could become a bloodbath.
DUNCAN: Elizabeth Palmer in London, thank you.
From the NBC Nightly News:
PETER ALEXANDER: Iran's state-run media tonight says 13 people have been killed in anti-government protests nationwide. Demonstrations have been going on there for five days now as President Trump voices his support for the protesters. Chief White House correspondent Hallie Jackson has more.
HALLIE JACKSON: Tonight, one Iranian police officer is dead and three others hurt, according to state-run media, as government security forces battle with demonstrators, now turning deadlier. Outrage over skyrocketing prices of food morphing into anti-regime anger for thousands of Iranians in the street. NBC's Ali Arouzi is in Tehran.
ALI AROUZI: Authorities here, on the one hand, have acknowledged people's dissatisfaction over the economy, but have also blamed many of the protesters for trying to take this in another direction. and have issued warnings that demonstrations will be dealt with severely,
JACKSON: President Trump seeming sympathetic to those protesters, tweeting today: "The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food and for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. Time for change!"
JACKSON: Is that the best course of action for him?
DOUGLAS OLLIVANT, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL DIRECTOR FOR IRAQ: Probably not. You know, let's face it, America is rather toxic inside Iran, and it might be more helpful for us to sit back and let this play out.
JACKSON: So far, Iran's protests are the biggest since the 2009 so-called "Green Movement." But that was different -- more urban, more centered on students. And the official U.S. response was different, too. Then-President Obama preferred a more cautious approach. This time, President Trump appears unafraid to insert himself into the unrest -- one that could end by tomorrow or perhaps stretch for weeks.
SHIBLEY TELHAMI, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SENIOR ADVISOR: Any time you have thousands of people risking their lives against a state that is prepared to use an iron fist, that's impressive.
JACKSON: President Trump is back in Washington tonight after spending the holidays in South Florida, facing a number of foreign policy challenges like Iran and a packed domestic agenda, too. He's looking ahead to that mid-month deadline to come to some kind of a budget deal with lawmakers or face the risk of government shutdown. Peter?