Reporting live from Seoul, South Korea during Friday’s Today show, NBC Chief Global Correspondent Bill Neely warned against anyone being too optimistic about the major diplomatic breakthrough in the Korean peace process, telling co-host Savannah Guthrie that she was “right to be skeptical” of the development. He later took to MSNBC to repeat the same message.
“And Bill, I think the question this morning is, you know, how real is this? Is this just all symbolism?,” Guthrie asked Neely. The reporter responded with a seemingly personal jab at President Trump: “Yeah, I think you are right to be skeptical. I mean, this isn’t a Miss World pageant, where everyone, you know, proclaims world peace, this is really serious stuff.”
While all three network morning shows on Friday devoted significant air time to the summit between the leaders of North and South Korea, only CBS This Morning made brief mention (just 76 seconds) of Trump’s role in fostering the breakthrough. The Today show and ABC’s Good Morning America avoided giving the President any credit.
Appearing on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports in the 12:00 p.m. ET hour on Friday, Neely repeated his call for caution: “I mean, it is a day when the words ‘historic’ and ‘extraordinary’ really are appropriate. But also a day to knowledge the limits of those words. A day when skepticism is in order.”
Pointing out how the preliminary peace discussion’s between North Korean dictator Kim Jung-un and South Korea’s President Moon were “long on promises and pledges and very short on specifics,” he urged that “we need to be realistic.” Wrapping up his report, Neely reiterated: “So some quite extraordinary things, but remember, we have a pledge to seek a peace process to end the 65-year-old Korean war and on denuclearization. Again, short on specifics.”
Anchor Andrea Mitchell thanked him for his observations: “Bill Neely with really appropriate cautionary flags.”
At the top of the 1:00 p.m. ET hour, anchor Craig Melvin brought Neely back on to cover the story. The correspondent maintained his talking points:
What we can say is that it is, has been a day when those overused words, “historic and “extraordinary,” really are appropriate. But appropriate, too, is some skepticism....But then, the skepticism again, right at the end when they signed that agreement....There are promises and pledges throughout this declaration, but it’s short on specifics.
He then pleaded with his media colleagues: “So, yes, an extraordinary day. Yes, a historic day, but let’s not, you know, lose our skepticism in all the emotion of it.”
This was the same Bill Neely who just months ago was sounding the alarm over potential nuclear between the United States and North Korea, laying the blame for tensions squarely on Trump.
While reporters like Neely are suddenly discovering the virtue of journalistic skepticism, one wonders where that attitude was just a few years ago, as President Obama was cutting questionable deals with Iran and Cuba.
Here is a transcript of Neely’s April 27 report on Andrea Mitchell Reports:
12:02 PM ET
ANDREA MITCHELL: Bill, first to you, let’s talk about what happened, what you witnessed today. I’ve been there so many times, I’ve never – none of us have ever seen anything like this.
BILL NEELY: Yes, Andrea, I mean, it is a day when the words “historic” and “extraordinary” really are appropriate. But also a day to knowledge the limits of those words. A day when skepticism is in order. Because when we waken up tomorrow morning, and policy makers in Washington and elsewhere will be aware of this, look through the declaration and really you'll see that it’s long on promises and pledges and very short on specifics.
For example, right at the very end of the declaration is the bit about denuclearization. It’s almost in the final paragraph and there’s no mention of a timetable. There’s no mention of what denuclearization actually means to North Koreans. So we need to be realistic as well.
But look, let’s just knowledge right from the beginning this was historic. Remember, the very first time any North Korean leader has set foot in South Korea. Kim Jong-un walking across that small concrete divide, the handshake. Immediately a warmth as he pulled President Moon into North Korea. That was clearly unscripted. Though the rest of the day very, very carefully choreographed. A guard of honor from South Korea, the two men spending about 30 minutes at one point in the woods talking privately. All the way to the champaign dinner this evening.
So some quite extraordinary things, but remember, we have a pledge to seek a peace process to end the 65-year-old Korean war and on denuclearization. Again, short on specifics, Andrea.
MITCHELL: Bill Neely with really appropriate cautionary flags.