On Friday, NBC’s Today skipped any mention of CIA Director John Brennan detailing Obama administration failures in the fight against ISIS while testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee. The morning show ignored the major story despite Thursday’s NBC Nightly News devoting a nearly two-minute segment to the topic.
On Nightly News, anchor Lester Holt declared: “Now to a stark warning here at home from the director of the CIA over the threat from ISIS. John Brennan told Congress today efforts to defeat ISIS on the battlefield have not put a dent in the group's ability to carry out terror attacks. And he warns they're already planning more carnage in the west.”
Correspondent Richard Engel informed viewers: “ISIS is bigger and more widespread than Al Qaeda ever was, and isn't getting weaker. According to an especially sober CIA assessment today.” A soundbite played of Brennan admitting: “Our efforts have not reduced the group's terrorism capability and global reach.”
While Engel appeared on Today to report on numerous State Department officials speaking out against Obama’s Syria policy, co-host Savannah Guthrie didn’t bother to ask him about Brennan’s comments.
At least NBC had a full report on its evening newscast. Thursday’s CBS Evening News only provided a 27-second news brief from anchor Scott Pelley:
America's two-year war against ISIS has not reduced its terrorism capability or its global reach. That was the conclusion today of the head of the CIA. John Brennan told the Senate Intelligence Committee the Orlando attack was inspired by ISIS's online propaganda, but the CIA has found no direct links between the group and gunman Omar Mateen.
ABC’s World News Tonight ignored the news completely.
Unlike Today on Friday, ABC’s Good Morning America and CBS This Morning both offered news briefs on Brennan. On GMA, it was a scant 23-second mention from news anchor Amy Robach:
News of that [State Department] memo comes one day after CIA Director John Brennan issued a dire warning to Congress. Brennan says even though the U.S. coalition is beating ISIS on the battlefields in Syria and Iraq, the terror group's capability to carry out attacks on the west remains stronger than ever. His warning in stark contrast to the more upbeat assessment offered by President Obama earlier this week.
On This Morning, co-host Charlie Rose read a 42-second report:
CHARLIE ROSE: CIA director John Brennan is offering a startling new take on the strength of ISIS that appears to contradict the President. Brennan told the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday that U.S. efforts, quote, "Have not reduced the group's terrorism capability." And he cautioned there could be new attacks here at home.
JOHN BRENNAN: The group is probably exploring a variety of means for infiltrating operatives into the west, including in refugee flows, smuggling routes, and legitimate methods of travel.
ROSE: President Obama recently touted gains in the fight. Brennan also said the agency has been unable to find any ISIS link with the Orlando gunman, Omar Mateen.
Despite noting Brennan’s “startling new take on the strength of ISIS,” another report immediately followed on the CBS morning program in which correspondent Elizabeth Palmer touted news of “a big symbolic victory” against the terrorist organization:
NORAH O’DONNELL: We are following breaking news from the front lines of the fight against ISIS. Iraq's military says its forces have retaken a key government complex in the center of Fallujah. Iraqi troops have been battling for nearly four weeks for control of the city west of Baghdad. Elizabeth Palmer is following the latest developments from London. Elizabeth, good morning.
ELIZABETH PALMER: Good morning. We're waiting for more detail on the Iraqi army's overall progress. This push to the center happened very early this morning, about 6:00 local time. But taking that government compound is certainly a big symbolic victory for the Iraqi army, and of course, the latest in a whole series of high-profile defeats for ISIS.
It comes after, as you mentioned, almost a month of heavy fighting with the Iraqi forces making slow progress through the countryside and the villages surrounding the city itself, backed by American air strikes. Fallujah was the first Iraqi city that ISIS took, and it's been consolidating its hold there for more than two years.
So the battle to bring it back under government control has been very fierce, and the push for the center this morning was no exception. It may be that the ISIS fighters that had been there are escaping, or did escape, hiding among the groups of fleeing refugees, or perhaps they've simply withdrawn to areas outside the city center, where the battle is continuing.
An officer with the Baghdad command center told us a little while ago that the Iraqi army is now in control of roughly half of Fallujah city, and that the remaining ISIS defensive lines are in disarray.
Here is a full transcript of Engel’s June 16 Nightly News report:
7:10 PM ET
LESTER HOLT: Now to a stark warning here at home from the director of the CIA over the threat from ISIS. John Brennan told Congress today efforts to defeat ISIS on the battlefield have not put a dent in the group's ability to carry out terror attacks. And he warns they're already planning more carnage in the west. NBC's Richard Engel has the story.
RICHARD ENGEL: ISIS is bigger and more widespread than Al Qaeda ever was, and isn't getting weaker. According to an especially sober CIA assessment today.
JOHN BRENNAN: Our efforts have not reduced the group's terrorism capability and global reach.
ENGEL: The CIA director also warned ISIS is now trying to stage its fighters into position for more violence.
BRENNAN: ISIL is training and attempting to deploy operatives for further attacks.
ENGEL: Militants may already be on the move. A senior U.S. counterterrorism official told NBC News that more than 30 ISIS fighters have been dispatched from Syria to Turkey, site of previous attacks, and also the main gateway for ISIS fighters to and from the west.
After the Orlando massacre, President Obama told the American people gains against ISIS are coming, through an intensive air campaign and more American special forces in Iraq and Syria.
BARACK OBAMA: This continues to be a difficult fight, but we are making significant progress.
ENGEL: While the CIA director today also spoke of progress, he said so far there hasn't been enough of it to make ISIS any less dangerous.
Why the increased concern now? It appears ISIS wants to make a big splash during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which lasts until early July. The group has specifically called on its supporters to carry out attacks in their home countries. Since then, there's been Orlando and the murders of a police officer and his wife in France. Lester?
HOLT: Richard Engel in Istanbul, thanks.