On Friday night, the broadcast network evening newscasts of ABC, CBS, NBC, Telemundo, and Univision ignored the arrest of a former Army Green Beret for what the Department of Justice alleged was a 15-year stint as a Russian spy providing them with “classified information,” including “details of his unit, and identifying Special Forces team members for Russian intelligence to try to recruit as a spy.”
And no, this was not something out of The Babylon Bee. Three networks that spent thousands of minutes on the Trump-Russia probe and shrieked at the mere mention of the authoritarian country ignored the arrest of 45-year-old Gainesville, Virginia resident Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins.
If the news media writ large were serious about putting a focus on the threats America faces from Russia, one would have thought such a serious, sobering story was worth at least highlighting in a brief.
As usual, the Fox News Channel’s Special Report provided viewers with, you know, the news. Anchor Bret Baier summed up the news in this news brief:
Federal prosecutors have charged a former army green beret with spying for Russia. A 45-year-old Peter Debbins of Gainesville Virginia is accused of working with Moscow as far back as 1996. Prosecutors say he periodically met Russian intelligence and was even assigned a code name by Russian agents. Authorities say Debbins was arrested today.
The DOJ press release alleged that between “December 1996 to January 2011,” Debbins “allegedly conspired with agents of a Russian intelligence service,” “periodically visited Russia,” “met with Russian intelligence agents,” “was assigned a code name by Russian intelligence agents[,] and signed a statement attesting that he wanted to serve Russia.”
Facing the possibility of life in prison if convicted, Debbins “allegedly provided the Russian intelligence agents with information that he obtained as a member of the U.S. Army, including information about his chemical and Special Forces units.”
The DOJ added that, after leaving active duty in 2008, Debbins “disclosed to the Russian intelligence agents classified information about his previous activities while deployed with the Special Forces” and, again, names of fellow “former Special Forces team members” so Russian intelligence could gauge whether any could also be flipped.
Here’s more from the announcement (click “expand”):
“Two espionage arrests in the past week — Ma in Hawaii and now Debbins in Virginia — demonstrate that we must remain vigilant against espionage from our two most malicious adversaries — Russia and China,” said John C. Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security. “Debbins violated his oath as a U.S. Army officer, betrayed the Special Forces and endangered our country’s national security by revealing classified information to Russian intelligence officers, providing details of his unit, and identifying Special Forces team members for Russian intelligence to try to recruit as a spy. Our country put its highest trust in this defendant, and he took that trust and weaponized it against the United States.”
“Our military is tasked with the awesome responsibility of protecting our nation from its adversaries, and its service members make incredible sacrifices in service of that duty,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “When service members collude to provide classified information to our foreign adversaries, they betray the oaths they swore to their country and their fellow service members.”
“According to the allegations, Mr. Debbins knowingly provided information to self-proclaimed members of Russia's Intelligence Service, the GRU,” said James A. Dawson, Acting Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office. “As a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, the American people and his fellow service men and women should have been able to trust Debbins with secrets and information.”
In contrast, ABC’s World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and Noticiero Univision dedicated a combined two minutes and 37 seconds to the sentencing of actress Lori Loughlin and husband Mossimo Giannulli as part of the nationwide college admissions scandal.
So the networks gave three and a half minutes for two Hollywood elites going to prison for two months and five months for Loughlin and Giannulli, respectively. But not one second on a former Army Green Beret being arrested on allegations of having spent over a decade as a Russian spy. Both cases involve serious offenses and deserve coverage, but these outlets thought only one of these was worth your time.
Let that be a talking point the next time the broadcast networks lecture you about how conservatives, Trump supporters, or anyone not on their side don’t care about threats posed by Russia.
The relevant FNC transcript from August 21 is provided below.
FNC’s Special Report with Bret Baier
August 21, 2020
6:28 p.m. Eastern
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Russian Espionage; Former Green Beret Charged]
BRET BAIER: Federal prosecutors have charged a former army green beret with spying for Russia. A 45-year-old Peter Debbins of Gainesville Virginia is accused of working with Moscow as far back as 1996. Prosecutors say he periodically met Russian intelligence and was even assigned a code name by Russian agents. Authorities say Debbins was arrested today.