On the eve of the last presidential debate, after 12 days of WikiLeaks and “locker room talk,” ABC News will devote a large chunk of its evening newscast Tuesday to an under-the-radar campaign issue: the future of the Guantanamo Bay detention center that houses suspected terrorists.
“We’re going to devote probably five minutes to it, which is very rare,” said “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir. He added that “there hasn’t been much of a conversation in this political cycle about that particular issue and, quite frankly, a number of other issues.”
You could call it the media’s Guantanamo Bay dilemma, though other topics would fit just as well. In the final three weeks of the campaign, how can the press give news of the day the attention it demands while also giving big-picture issues — such as how the United States will treat terror suspects in the next administration — a thorough airing?
The Fix spoke about this challenge with Muir, who traveled to the Guantanamo detention center for the story airing Tuesday night. The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
THE FIX: The Guantanamo closure question hasn’t been totally forgotten in the presidential campaign, but it has certainly been overshadowed — especially recently. Has it been underplayed, in your view, or is the attention level about right, given everything else going on?
MUIR: As a broadcast, we have a responsibility to explore a number of these major issues with two candidates who have very different views, as voters head to Election Day. I mean, we’re 20 days out. I don’t think there’s been enough of a conversation about the future of Guantanamo. … All we can do is try to elevate some of these very important issues, even as we are bombarded with the news of the day.
THE FIX: You mentioned that the candidates have different views of Guantanamo. Hillary Clinton supports the president’s plan to close the prison. Donald Trump has said he’d like to “load it up with some bad dudes.” He even said in August that he might like to add some American citizens who have been involved in terror plots. How well do you think those positions are known? I’m not sure there has been enough attention for voters to know what the differences are.
MUIR: I completely agree. There has been a lot of attention paid to both of these candidates and their unfavorables, and the fact that a lot of Americans have said they don’t really like either one of these candidates. But it’s important for us as journalists to tackle some of these issues and point out that there are very stark contrasts between these two candidates. Whether you like them or not, there are two very different courses that they are suggesting.
THE FIX: Guantanamo is one example, but there are other issues that you could call undercovered. The Trump campaign might call recent reports on sexual assault allegations a distraction, but that is serious stuff, too. You’ve had experience moderating debates in the primaries. How much time do you devote to the news of the moment, which is important, and how much do you spend on “the issues,” such as Guantanamo and others?
MUIR: Having moderated two of these debates during the primary season, I do recognize that the moment it starts, the clock starts ticking. These debates have been extraordinarily important in this presidential campaign because every day we are reacting in real time to the news that drops on any given day. So these debates, though they fly by, are the best opportunity for voters to take a temperature of where the candidates stand on other issues. It’s been a real challenge for all the moderators in this campaign cycle. You have to balance tackling the issues of that particular moment and some of the other issues that are really important to the American people. Guantanamo Bay and Syrian refugees are just two examples.