Nets Cover for Obama on Iran Ransom, Bash Trump Instead

On Friday, all three morning shows dutifully touted President Obama’s defense of paying Iran $400 million on the same day Tehran released American hostages. Rather than hold the current president accountable for his highly questionable statements on the scandal, the broadcasts instead chose to hammer presidential candidate Donald Trump over a gaffe he made while reacting to the controversy.

On NBC’s Today, correspondent Andrea Mitchell offered a mere 40 seconds on the ransom payment. She began: “Trump also blasting President Obama and Hillary Clinton for a controversial decision to return $400 million to Iran on the same day Iran was releasing four American detainees.”

Mitchell hastened to absolve Clinton and Obama of any responsibility: “However, Clinton was long out of office, and the President says it was not ransom.” She then quickly turned to Trump’s stumble:

Trump is drawing fire himself, for claiming he saw video of an unmarked cargo plane delivering that cash to Iran....In fact, the only known video is of a smaller plane, the private jet, bringing the prisoners home. This morning, Trump tweeted an acknowledgment in fact it was the prisoner plane.

Offering another 30 seconds on the topic during an 8 a.m. ET hour news brief, anchor Tamron Hall parroted White House talking points: “And President Obama strongly denies that $400 million in cash sent to Iran in January was a payoff for the release of four Americans held captive there. Speaking at the Pentagon Thursday, the President said the payment was not secret and settled a long-standing dispute over a 1970's arms deal.”

ABC’s Good Morning America didn’t even bother covering Obama’s response to the controversial Iran payoff and only saw scandal for Trump.  Correspondent Tom Llamas proclaimed:

Another new distraction, Trump’s repeated assertion he's seen another video that apparently doesn't exist....With the Obama administration taking heat for what critics say is a $400 million ransom payment to Iran, Trump telling crowds about a video showing that U.S. cash delivery....But that video is not of the money transfer, rather of American prisoners who were in Iran being released in Geneva back in January....But from the get-go, he's been describing this tape as a cash payment, which clearly it was not.

Repeating the story in the 8 a.m. ET hour, Llamas described the comments as “one more hiccup as polls showing him in a deep dive while he’s still having problems with his own party.” Fill-in news anchor Paul Faris agreed: “Yeah, yet another gaffe.”

At the top of CBS This Morning, co-host Gayle King announced: “President Obama gives his first response to questions about the $400 million dollar cash payment to Iran. He says talk about ransom belongs in a spy novel.” In a report minutes later, correspondent Major Garrett promoted the dismissive line:

President Obama called talk of ransom paid to Iran for U.S. hostages a transfer that was carried out in big bundles of non-U.S. currency the stuff of spy novels. The President said it was actually much more boring than that. Money that was owed to Iran in the first place and simply couldn't be transferred any other way.

Amid soundbites of Obama trying to spin the action as anything other than ransom, Garrett only showed a slight glimmer of skepticism: “As yet, the administration has refused to say if the plane ferrying the Americans from Iran to Switzerland departed before or after the currency arrived. Deepening the sense Iran viewed it as ransom.”

In fact, one of the freed American hostages, Pastor Saheed Abedini, in an interview with Fox Business anchor Trish Regan on Tuesday, recalled a conversation he had with Iranian authorities just as he and the other hostages were waiting to board a plane to freedom: “They said, ‘We are waiting for another plane and if that plane doesn’t come, we’ll never let you go.’” His statement strongly suggests that the Iranians were waiting for the cash-filled cargo plane to arrive before releasing the hostages.

On Friday, NBC, ABC, and CBS all ignored Mr. Abedini’s comments, despite his revelation seeming to directly contradict Obama’s assertion that the $400 million was not ransom.

Here are excerpts from the August 5 coverage:

Today
7:14 AM ET

(...)

ANDREA MITCHELL: Trump also blasting President Obama and Hillary Clinton for a controversial decision to return $400 million to Iran on the same day Iran was releasing four American detainees. However, Clinton was long out of office, and the President says it was not ransom.

BARACK OBAMA: We do not pay ransom for hostages.

MITCHELL: Trump is drawing fire himself, for claiming he saw video of an unmarked cargo plane delivering that cash to Iran.

DONALD TRUMP: The tape was made, right? You saw that with the airplane coming in. Nice plane.

MITCHELL: In fact, the only known video is of a smaller plane, the private jet, bringing the prisoners home. This morning, Trump tweeted an acknowledgment in fact it was the prisoner plane.

(...)

Good Morning America
7:06 AM ET

(...)

TOM LLAMAS: Another new distraction, Trump’s repeated assertion he's seen another video that apparently doesn't exist.

DONALD TRUMP: You know, it was interesting because a tape was made.

LLAMAS: With the Obama administration taking heat for what critics say is a $400 million ransom payment to Iran, Trump telling crowds about a video showing that U.S. cash delivery.

TRUMP: And the airplane coming in and the money coming off, I guess, right? That was given to us, has to be, by the Iranians.

LLAMAS: But Trump's own campaign telling ABC News Trump is referring to footage he recently saw on Fox News. But that video is not of the money transfer, rather of American prisoners who were in Iran being released in Geneva back in January.

And this morning, a new twist to the story. Just moments ago, Trump sending out this tweet: “The plane I saw on television was the hostage plane in Geneva, Switzerland, not the plane carrying $400 million in cash going to Iran!” Now, it's unclear if Trump is acknowledging his mistake or trying to say that's what he meant from the start. But from the get-go, he's been describing this tape as a cash payment, which clearly it was not.

(...)

CBS This Morning
7:00 AM ET TEASE

GAYLE KING: President Obama gives his first response to questions about the $400 million dollar cash payment to Iran. He says talk about ransom belongs in a spy novel.

7:14 AM ET SEGMENT

GAYLE KING: President Obama is responding for the very first time to questions about the controversial $400 million dollar cash payment to Iran. It was one of the issues that came up at his news conference yesterday at the Pentagon. The President also discussed America’s new air strikes against ISIS in Libya. Major Garrett is at the White House with the President’s push back against Donald Trump and other critics. Major, good morning.  

MAJOR GARRETT: Good morning. President Obama called talk of ransom paid to Iran for U.S. hostages a transfer that was carried out in big bundles of non-U.S. currency the stuff of spy novels. The President said it was actually much more boring than that. Money that was owed to Iran in the first place and simply couldn't be transferred any other way.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Iran Cash Controversy; President Defends Payout, Talks ISIS at Pentagon]

After reviewing military efforts against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, President Obama, for the first time, addressed questions about a $400 million dollar payment to Iran at the time four detained Americans were released.

BARACK OBAMA: We announced these payments in January. Many months ago. There wasn't a secret. This wasn't some nefarious deal. We do not pay ransom for hostages. We do not pay ransom and we didn't here and we don't – we won't in the future.

GARRETT: As yet, the administration has refused to say if the plane ferrying the Americans from Iran to Switzerland departed before or after the currency arrived. Deepening the sense Iran viewed it as ransom. The President suggested the nature of the payment, not the timing, made the story intriguing.

OBAMA: Maybe because it kind of feels like some spy novel or, you know, some, you know, crime novel because cash was exchanged. The reason cash was exchanged is because we don't have a banking relationship with Iran.

(...)

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