Study: Nets Bury Obama's Iran Deal Under Criticism of GOP Letter

So, just how slanted were the Big Three broadcast networks in their coverage of the letter sent by 47 Senate Republicans to the Iranian government? A new study by the Media Research Center has found ABC, CBS and NBC gave three times more coverage to critics of the GOP letter than to supporters, and more than eight times as much airtime fretting about the letter than about the substance of the Obama administration's dealings with Iran.

MRC analysts studied every morning and evening newscast story on the GOP letter from its announcement on March 9 through the evening of March 16. (The only exception was the March 15 NBC Nightly News, which was preempted for golf.) Over those seven days, ABC, CBS and NBC featured just under 28 minutes (or 21 segments) of coverage on the message.

But the debate over that letter was extremely lopsided. Our analysts tallied 71 statements providing an opinion about the Republican missive, of which 55 (77%) criticized the Republicans, vs. just 16 (23%) who expressed support, a disparity of more than three-to-one.

And the Republican letter drew far more commentary than the impending deal between the U.S. and Iran, which would reportedly permit the Islamic Republic to pursue a nuclear weapon without restrictions after 10 years, despite a Fox News poll showing 84% of the public said that would be "a bad deal." Our analysts found just eight statements focusing on the substance of the Obama administration's diplomacy, barely one-ninth the number focused on the Republican letter (71). 

The 47 GOP senators who signed the letter have grave concerns about the President's negotiations with Iran, yet the networks featured howls of outrage from Democrats towards "traitorous" Republicans. On March 10, CBS This Morning, guest co-host Jeff Glor hyped, "This morning's New York Daily News headline calls those Republicans 'traitors.'" 

Reporter Nancy Cordes touted, "The State Department and Senate Democrats accuse Republicans of trying to sabotage the negotiations." She also noted that Iran's foreign minister "called the letter propaganda." 

On the March 9 NBC Nightly News, Peter Alexander echoed, "President Obama ridiculed Senate Republicans for reaching out to one of America's enemies." He then included a quote of Obama assailing the GOP for "making common cause with the hardliners in Iran." 

Over on ABC, World News anchor David Muir trumpeted "outrage over what some are calling an extreme measure by members of Congress." After Jon Karl related that the "White House is furious," he parroted, "One top official called the Republican letter, 'reckless" and something that could "undermine the United States on the world stage." 

Network hosts and journalists described (or quoted others as attacking) the letter as "unprecedented" and "extraordinary." Yet, no one at ABC, NBC or CBS noted that it's nothing of the kind. In 1991, it was revealed that then-Senator Ted Kennedy in 1983 wrote to the Soviet Union and conspired with the Russians on ways to disrupt Ronald Reagan's foreign policy. Nor was this the only occasion. Another example occurred in 1990 during the Gulf War. 

CBS offered 39 statements (either quotes from Democrats or just by repeating spin) attacking the GOP move. Of the three networks, this was the most. CBS allowed only nine examples of Republicans defending the letter and another seven on the overall policy. CBS produced 18 minutes and eight seconds of total coverage.

 NBC's six minutes and 15 seconds of coverage resulted in six statements attacking the Republican position and only three in defense. The network managed just one statement on the general policy.

ABC produced the least amount of coverage. The network offered a scant three minutes and 28 seconds. This resulted in ten statements attacking the GOP letter and just four defending it. The network offered no examples of attacking Obama's overall policy. 

Republican support for the letter, as well as opposition to Obama's Iran negations, did get some attention. Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton appeared the most frequently. In a clip for the March 9 Evening News, Cotton assailed, "The only thing unprecedented is an American president negotiating a nuclear agreement with the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism without congressional approval." 

On the March 9 NBC Nightly News, he explained, "This letter is about nothing more than stopping Iran from getting a nuclear bomb. The United States and our allies cannot live with a nuclear Iran. " For the March 10 GMA, he insisted that Republicans are "simply trying to say that Congress has a constitutional role to approve any deal, to make sure that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon. 

Cotton also dealt with strong criticism from his network hosts. The March 15 CBS Evening News played a clip from that day's Face the Nation. Anchor Bob Schieffer demanded, "Do you feel that you have weakened the President's hand and do you have any regret about the way you went about this?" He sarcastically asked Cotton if the Senator would be talking to North Korea next. 

In a rare break from pushing the Democratic side of this debate, Nancy Cordes on the March 10 CBS This Morning clarified, "Republicans worry that any U.S. brokered agreement will only temporarily halt Iran’s path to the bomb..." 

But these examples were few and far between. More often, the networks chose to promote Democratic outrage over the letter and ignore the root causes of GOP frustration. If Americans are to get a clear idea of what this argument is about, ABC, NBC and CBS need to offer both sides of this very important debate. 

— Scott Whitlock is Senior News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Scott Whitlock on Twitter.