Ross allowed the audience to hear the voice of Saddam proclaiming that America would suffer terrorism via weapons of mass destruction, although he insisted on tape that it would not come from Iraq. They also heard Saddam's son-in-law declare in 1995 how they were misleading the UN about WMD. But Ross was measured in assessing exactly what this proved, quoting the CIA's Charles Duelfer that these tapes do not prove Saddam possessed WMD when war broke out, but that "the regime had the intention of building and rebuilding weapons of mass destruction, when circumstances permitted." Between these three stories on three shows, ABC gave the tapes about 15 minutes of airtime.
Even so, ABC demonstrated an odd sense of news judgment. Ross's first bite of the apple appeared almost 13 minutes into "World News Tonight." As they premiered their Saddam-tapes story on "Nightline," it wasn't even the first story. It was the second, aired only after ABC reviewed Dick Cheney's interview with Brit Hume on Fox.
Three stories on the Saddam tapes are a drop in the ocean compared to the hundreds of stories ABC and the others devoted to the proposition that the Iraqi tyrant didn't possess WMD and was not connected to anti-American terrorism. Still, ABC looked quite a bit more serious about telling this Saddam story than the other two broadcast networks. On the night ABC broke its story, CBS and NBC both performed the video equivalent of crumpling up the story and throwing it away in little more than 150 words (about 45 seconds) each.
On NBC, Brian Williams noted, "We are learning tonight that like a lot of world leaders, former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein recorded meetings with members of his government." He said their investigative reporter, Lisa Myers, listened to the tapes, and he quickly recounted Saddam's claims of future terror attacks with WMD against America. It was bad enough Williams couldn't muster a whole story, but then to describe Saddam as the former Iraqi "president"? Pathetic.
CBS was even worse, with anchorman Bob Schieffer vaguely asking defense reporter David Martin about "some CD recordings" of Saddam. Martin proclaimed it wasn't really news: "intelligence officials say they've had them for some time and they contain no revelations about weapons of mass destruction." CBS reported no quotes of what Saddam or his son-in-law said on the tapes.
Now imagine how much coverage these tapes would have received if Saddam had declared in 1995 that some reckless American president would eventually invade Iraq based on phony claims that he had WMD. You know and I know he would be taken at his word, and his words would lead every national newscast for weeks to come.