COMMENTS: Obama’s Afghanistan Speech Reax

The reaction to Barack Obama's speech at West Point in which he ordered an additional 30,000 troops off to war in Afghanistan dominated a heavy day of news. Afghanistan was Story of the Day, accounting for almost half of the three-network newshole (49%--29 min out of 59). All three anchors interviewed a senior Cabinet member: CBS' Katie Couric and NBC's Brian Williams questioned Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Secretary of State; ABC's Charles Gibson traveled to Washington DC to sit down in person with Defense Secretary Robert Gates. CBS (13 min v ABC 9, NBC 8) continued its commitment to the Afghan story that it announced in September with its Road Ahead specials. The day was an anniversary for NBC's Williams as he marked five years in the Nightly News anchor chair.

All three newscasts kicked off with highlights from the Capitol Hill hearings into the President's Afghanistan policy. NBC used its Congressional correspondent Kelly O'Donnell. ABC and CBS both covered the hearings from the White House, with Jake Tapper and Chip Reid respectively. NBC's O'Donnell decided that the crucial angle was not the extra deployment but its eventual termination. The big question at the hearings was: "When can they come home?" She noted that Secretary Gates "seemed to contradict himself," answering that the US military will begin its pullout in July 2001 and at other times that he would evaluate whether such a transition was possible this time next year.

Unidentified sources at the White House told ABC's Tapper that there was no maybe about it: "The surge will create the conditions where 170,000 Afghan troops can be trained by July 2011, a point at which US troops can begin to withdraw." Unnamed critics of the troop reinforcement--identified by CBS' Reid as "anti-war Democrats"--scoffed: "With or without a timeline some troops will be there longer than anyone in the administration has admitted," they predicted.


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