UPDATED with more details and new Trump tweets: News networks gradually shifted the focus of their primetime lineups on Thursday evening to the U.S.-directed assassination of a top Iranian military leader via a drone strike.
In the 9 p.m. ET hour, Fox News’ Hannity, guest-hosted by former GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, was the first to devote blanket coverage to the news of the killing of Qasem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, which the U.S. has designated as a terrorist organization. Host Sean Hannity called in to the show, which ran a banner that said, “Sources to Hannity: Trump & Advisers Prepared for All Scenarios After Strike Kills Iranian Commander.”
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“For the critics who are going to say this is warmongering, no. This is peace through strength,” Rep. Michael Waltz (R-FL) told Chaffetz. “This is deterrence, and this is what the Iranian regime understands. They are emboldened by perceived weakness, and they would continue their attacks unless we took strong action.”
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MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and CNN’s Anderson Cooper initially focused on other news of the day but later turned their attention to the breaking story of the assassination and its ramifications. Given Soleimani’s role as a high-profile government figure in Iran, commentators focused on the potential for the Tehran regime to retaliate, escalating even to the point of war.
“I would be surprised if there isn’t some sort of serious reprisal,” Ali Arouzi, NBC News’ Tehran bureau chief, said on MSNBC. “I think this is going to aggravate the situation much further.”
Maddow planned to return to the anchor chair to anchor additional coverage following The 11th Hour.
On CNN, Fareed Zakaria said that the U.S. appeared to be “entering another Middle East war.”
Zakaria talked of how Soleimani was regarded as a “heroic” figure in Iran. The U.S. and its allies saw him as a brutal orchestrator of terror, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American troops.
The missile strike also warranted interruption of regularly scheduled programming on broadcast TV. CBS News was the first with a special report at 8:55 p.m., anchored by Margaret Brennan with analysis from national security correspondent David Martin, and the network also ran a crawl at 10:19 p.m. ET when the Defense Department offered a confirmation.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said via phone on MSNBC that “the danger, of course, is that we are going to get in a conflict in the region.”
Soleimani’s death was first reported by Iranian TV, but the Pentagon later confirmed that the drone strike was at the direction of President Donald Trump. Soleimani was killed at Baghdad International Airport along with members of Iranian-backed militias.
“At the direction of the President, the US military has taken decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization,” the Department of Defense said in a statement. “General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region. General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.”
The Pentagon also said that Soleimani approved the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad this week.
As the news of the assassination spread across social media, Trump tweeted a picture of the American flag.
See his Friday tweets below.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif later tweeted, “The US’ act of international terrorism, targeting & assassinating General Soleimani—THE most effective force fighting Daesh (ISIS), Al Nusrah, Al Qaeda et al—is extremely dangerous & a foolish escalation.
“The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism.”
On Friday, Trump tweeted:
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