Saw two very different Egypt reports tonight. ABC World News and NBC Nightly News differed in their view of the "Mubarak supporters" who began attacking anti-government protesters in Cairo. Brian Williams threw it over to Richard Engel, who made it clear that the Mubarak supporters were goons sent in by Mubarak himself. He cited plenty of anecdotal evidence-- people claiming to have found police ID on the attackers, the military-style tactics they used to seal off the square, the coordinated arrival, etc. Williams was careful not to lay any of the blame to the government-- he let Engel do all the talking.
ABC, however, only briefly mentioned that many anti-government protesters "believe" that the pro-Mubarak faction were brought by the government itself. Nothing else said, other than reporting the violence itself (including almost getting two reporters beaten up). The rest of the report made it sound like the pro-Mubarak faction was just as grass-roots as the anti-government one. (I wasn't alone in noticing this, my wife picked up on it immediately.)
ABC took The White House's line, as Gibbs condemned the violence but stopped short of blaming the government.
This same stark difference bothered me reading the Twitter updates today. Nick Kristof didn't hesitate to call them "Mubarak's mercenaries" from the beginning while other outlets just said "Mubarak's supporters."
My head thinks ABC's line is correct-- report the facts, let them speak for themselves. Engel may well be right but has no evidence. But my heart wanted ABC to say "doesn't it seem strange that these pro-government forces were so organized...?" They wouldn't go there.
PBS NewsHour gets around this by outsourcing to an ITN reporter to get the facts on the ground, and then posing questions to a panel of experts-- who are free to express their beliefs/opinions that the pro-Mubarak demonstrators were sent by the government itself. One person pointed out that it appeared some of the Mubarak supporters "were clearly from a lower socioeconomic class" who may have been paid a small sum to do the dirty work. Seemingly plausible hypothesis.
PBS NewsHour always wins, by the way. (You'll always win if you're willing to devote more than 5 minutes to a news story.)
Gotta hand it to NBC's coverage in general though, they have an army of people on the ground; Engel speaks Arabic and lived in Cairo for years.
Poor ABC looks like it has no money for foreign offices. They have led with U.S. news the last two days. Kinda like they're embarrassed by their lack of overseas resources. (This is pure news snobbery on my part, but that's what I do).