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NBC Plays Up Turkish P.M. 'Trying to Impose More Conservative Values'; Omits His Islamic Views

On Monday's NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams failed to mention Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan's traditional Islamic orientation as he reported on the "anti-government protests" in the Mediterranean country. Williams merely described the demonstrations as a "display of frustration with the prime minister...who has been trying to impose more conservative values on that mostly secular country."

CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley had no such qualms the same evening as he reported on the same rallies. Pelley asked correspondent Holly Williams, "When the protestors say that Erdogan is trying to impose his Islamic values on the country, what are they talking about?"

The NBC anchor devoted a news brief to the protests. Before using his "conservative values" line, Williams noted that "once again, violence broke out as riot police fought with demonstrators near the offices of the prime minister." He also asserted that "at times, it looked a lot like Tahrir Square in Egypt during the Arab uprising – a comparison Erdogan rejected today."

By contrast, the CBS evening newscast aired a full report from Holly Williams, who was on the ground in Istanbul. She clearly mentioned Erdogan's Islamic-based ideology midway through the segment:

HOLLY WILLIAMS: The target of their [the demonstrators] anger is the country's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He's dismissed those demonstrating as extremists and looters, and still has the support of many Turks. But the protesters say the prime minister wants to impose his own conservative Islamic views on Turkey, and doesn't tolerate opposition.

Pelley later turned to the former Sky News correspondent and asked his "Islamic values" question. Williams replied, in part, that "his [Erdogan's] government recently decided to bring in new restrictions on the sale of alcohol. That's a move that's enraged less religious Turks."

The full transcript of Brian Williams news brief from Monday's NBC Nightly News and Holly Williams full report from Monday's CBS Evening News:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Overseas, this was the fourth day now of anti-government protests in Turkey. Once again, violence broke out as riot police fought with demonstrators near the offices of the prime minister. These protests are seen largely as a display of frustration with the prime minister, [Recep] Erdogan, who has been trying to impose more conservative values on that mostly secular country. At times, it looked a lot like Tahrir Square in Egypt during the Arab uprising – a comparison Erdogan rejected today.


06/03/2013
06:39 pm EDT
CBS Evening News

SCOTT PELLEY: There's trouble tonight for an important American ally. Violent anti-government protests have exploded throughout Turkey over the past four days. At least one person has been killed; more than 1,700 have been arrested.

Holly Williams is in Istanbul tonight.

HOLLY WILLIAMS (voice-over): The streets of some of Turkey's biggest cities have become battlefields. Today in Ankara, the nation's capital, the police tried to push back protesters with water cannons. And as the sun went down on Taksim Square in Istanbul, the authorities fired tear gas into a crowd of thousands.

WILLIAMS (on-camera): This started out as a small demonstration against the destruction of an Istanbul park to make way for a shopping mall. Now, as you can see, it's become something very different.

WILLIAMS (voice-over): Ismet Aktar was one of the protest organizers in Istanbul, and told us the violent clashes are the government's fault.

ISMET AKTAR (on-camera): They don't want to hear – hear the people's voice.

WILLIAMS: Why not?

AKTAR: Because they think that they represent, themselves, the whole nation – the whole people. But the people is (sic) here.

WILLIAMS (voice-over): The target of their anger is the country's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He's dismissed those demonstrating as extremists and looters, and still has the support of many Turks. But the protesters say the prime minister wants to impose his own conservative Islamic views on Turkey, and doesn't tolerate opposition.

Some of them, like college professor Sania Demirel, are even worried that Turkey's democracy is under threat.

SANIA DEMIREL: We don't want a dictator in our country, okay? We want to live in freedom. That is what we want in our country.

PELLEY (live): Holly Williams is in Taksim Square tonight, and joins us now. Holly, when the protestors say that Erdogan is trying to impose his Islamic values on the country, what are they talking about?

WILLIAMS: Well, Scott, tensions between more religiously conservative Turks and more moderate Turks have existed for a long time, but they seem to have been forced to the surface by some of Prime Minister Erdogan's policies. For example, many Muslims don't drink, and his government recently decided to bring in new restrictions on the sale of alcohol. That's a move that's enraged less religious Turks.

PELLEY: Holly Williams reporting from Istanbul – Holly, thank you.

— Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.