The network evening newscasts were unsure whether to hail, cover neutrally, or condemn the latest U.S. prisoner swap with an authoritarian regime. In this case, the exchange with Venezuela’s Maduro dictatorial regime, which returned his notorious bagman, Alex Saab, in exchange for fugitive “Fat Leonard” and 10 additional hostages.
NBC’s report, part of which you can see here, was probably the cleanest:
LESTER HOLT: Also breaking tonight, the release of ten Americans detained in Venezuela in a prisoner exchange announced by the Biden administration late today, but it is not without controversy. Gabe Gutierrez reports now from the White House.
GABE GUTIERREZ: Tonight, ten Americans are on their way home. Some expected to land soon in San Antonio, among them six people the State Department says were wrongfully detained in Venezuela. The Biden administration striking a deal with the country’s socialist government led by president Nicolas Maduro.
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We have no higher priority than the release of detained and/or hostages re– Americans being held hostage.
GUTIERREZ: Venezuela is also releasing 20 political prisoners and sending back a fugitive. Leonard Francis, better known as “Fat Leonard”, was behind one of the worst bribery scandals in U.S. Navy history and fled to Venezuela last year before his sentencing. In return, the U.S. Is releasing Colombian businessman Alex Saab, a Maduro ally, who is accused of bribery and money laundering.
None of the reports went very deeply into who Saab is and how important he is to the Maduro dictatorship, despite the fact that everybody ran the same Venezuelan state TV B-reel of Saab receiving a hero’s welcome at the Miraflores presidential palace. Saab was Maduro’s bagman, with ties to the Iranian regime and instrumental in finding ways for the regime to skirt U.S. sanctions.
Saab held a trove of information that could’ve been useful to the United States, and it was in viewers’ interest to know this. The swap with Fat Leonard was depicted as an equal exchange when in fact it wasn’t. Reasonable people could come to the conclusion that the value of Saab was downplayed so as to depict the deal in a light most favorable to the White House.
It should be noted that both Ed O’Keefe of CBS and Gabe Gutierrez of NBC acknowledged, as best as they could within their time constraints, that there are significant concerns over whether this deal will embolden further kidnapping of Americans overseas. Mary Bruce of ABC made no such acknowledgements.
Margaret Brennan of CBS put a bow on the whole report by noting that the families will be reunited before Christmas. However, she was the only one to acknowledge Venezuela’s relationship to the ongoing disaster at the southern border.
“Uneven” is, perhaps, the most generous way to describe the simplistic manner in which this complex story was covered.
To view the full ABC transcript, click here
To view the full NBC transcript, click here
To view the full CBS transcript, click here