NBC Devotes Full Report to Iran Ransom Revelation; Only Seconds on ABC, CBS

After news broke late Tuesday that the Obama administration actually paid $1.7 billion in cash ransom to Iran to secure the release of American hostages – a sum much larger than the initially reported $400 million – only NBC’s Today bothered to devote a full two-minute segment to the shocking development. CBS This Morning and ABC’s Good Morning America could only manage seconds of air time for the scandal.

At the top of Today, co-host Matt Lauer pointed out the White House’s dishonesty: “$1.7 billion. That's how much the Obama administration now admits it sent Iran in cash earlier this year. More than four times what it initially said it delivered. What was the money for? And why wasn't the government more up-front about it from the start?”

Minutes later, fellow co-host Savannah Guthrie declared: “And there’s new fuel, by the way, in the controversy facing the Obama administration over payments it sent to Iran earlier this year. The White House is now saying the overall total, entirely in cash, amounted to $1.7 billion.” Correspondent Ron Allen began the report:

Under pressure, the administration admitted that it spent some $400 million, using that money as leverage to help free four Americans who were being held in Iran. Now The Wall Street Journal reports that within a few weeks Iran got another $1.3 billion, all that money in cash. The timing raising new questions about whether all that money was ransom.

After noting the administration claim that the money “was owed to Iran, settling a decades-old dispute about a failed arms deal” and how Obama “has insisted the deals were not connected and not ransom,” Allen countered: “But critics of the deal with Iran say the administration has refused to reveal complete details about when and how the cash was sent, and say hundreds of millions in cash could end up in the hands of terrorists Iran backs and endanger Americans.”

At the top of the 8 a.m. ET hour, Guthrie offered a 34-second news brief summarizing the controversy again for viewers. That 34 seconds was actually longer than either news brief on the CBS or ABC morning shows.

On CBS This Morning, co-host Norah O’Donnell offered 31 seconds:

The Obama administration now says all of the $1.7 billion paid to Iran last January was given in cash. 1.3 billion of that was in taxpayer money in the form of interest, after an initial payment. The payments settled a decades-old dispute over a failed arms deal dating all the way back to 1979. The initial payment of $400 million dollars was delivered the same day Iran agreed to release four American prisoners in January. Critics called it ransom. The White House recently categorized it as leverage.

On ABC’s Good Morning America, news anchor Amy Robach provided a mere 24 seconds:

And there are new details on the $1.7 billion the U.S. paid Iran this year. The Obama administration now acknowledging the payment was made entirely in cash. Critics claim the payment was ransom for the release of American hostages. But the White House insists it was a settlement stemming from the 1970s and says cash was necessary because sanctions blocked Iran from using the global banking system.

Here is a full transcript of the September 7 report on Today:

7:00 AM ET TEASE:

MATT LAUER: $1.7 billion. That's how much the Obama administration now admits it sent Iran in cash earlier this year. More than four times what it initially said it delivered. What was the money for? And why wasn't the government more up-front about it from the start?

7:10 AM ET SEGMENT:

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: And there’s new fuel, by the way, in the controversy facing the Obama administration over payments it sent to Iran earlier this year. The White House is now saying the overall total, entirely in cash, amounted to $1.7 billion. NBC's Ron Allen is traveling with the President in Laos this morning and has the latest. Ron, good morning.

RON ALLEN: Under pressure, the administration admitted that it spent some $400 million, using that money as leverage to help free four Americans who were being held in Iran. Now The Wall Street Journal reports that within a few weeks Iran got another $1.3 billion, all that money in cash. The timing raising new questions about whether all that money was ransom.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: U.S. Pays Iran $1.7 Billion in Cash; Transferred $1.3 Billion More After First Payment]

The Obama administration has said all that money, $1.7 billion, was owed to Iran, settling a decades-old dispute about a failed arms deal. An agreement, they say, that coincided with the prisoner release and implementation of the Iran nuclear deal. The President has insisted the deals were not connected and not ransom.

BARACK OBAMA: We do not pay ransom for hostages.

ALLEN: But critics of the deal with Iran say the administration has refused to reveal complete details about when and how the cash was sent, and say hundreds of millions in cash could end up in the hands of terrorists Iran backs and endanger Americans. The White House insists it revealed the cash payments in August, when asked whether an additional $1.3 billion had been sent to Iran, just like the initial $400 million payment.

JOSH EARNEST [AUGUST 25, 2016]: We haven't been as specific about the mechanism of the payment for the $1.3 billion in interest, other than to say that we had a similar arrangement with a central bank.  

ALLEN: The administration insists some of the details must be kept secret and that it had to use cash because of sanctions against Iran. Still, Republicans on the hill want to introduce legislation that bans any payments to Iran and demands billions from the regime to compensate victims of terror. Savannah?

GUTHRIE: Ron Allen traveling with the President, thank you.

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