Accuracy in Media

The release of American citizens being held hostage is a focus of the Trump administration since he became president, but the mainstream media still criticized Trump for failing to negotiate the release of an American citizen who died in an Egyptian prison this month.

Moustafa Kassem, age 54, died on January 13 after going on a liquids-only hunger strike to protest his conviction in Egyptian court that he was a terrorist. He was arrested in 2013, but was convicted in September 2018. In order to be freed from prison, Kassem agreed to renounce his Egyptian citizenship, fill out paperwork, and then he would be freed, but the paperwork stalled for six months until his death.

NBC News criticized the Trump administration for not doing enough to free Kassem and push the Egyptian government to finalize the necessary paperwork to secure his release. According to Kassem’s lawyer, the paperwork sat for six months and the lawyer blamed the Trump administration for not pressuring the Egyptian government in form of sanctions or withholding military aid. Although NBC News admitted that Vice President Mike Pence made direct appeals to Egypt on behalf of Kassem, the Egyptian government did not budge. The news outlet cited Kassem’s lawyer at length and he claimed “they didn’t do everything they could have” to obtain his client’s freedom.

When asked, the State Department told NBC News, “We raised our concerns about Mr. Kassem’s health and the need for his immediate release with the Egyptian government at the highest levels; and will continue to raise our serious concerns over human rights and Americans detained in Egypt at every opportunity, as will the entire team at the State Department.” In other words, the State Department did pressure the Egyptian government, but they could not secure the man’s freedom.

It was tragic that Kassem died while the administration pressured Egypt to release him, but NBC News did not mention how Trump was able to secure the release of multiple hostages during his term. Trump negotiated the release of Taliban-held Australian and U.S. hostages, along with Otto Warmbier, an American college student imprisoned in North Korea. Sadly, Warmbier died soon after arriving in the United States in a coma. The Trump administration also secured the release of the rapper A$AP Rocky in Sweden, where the rapper faced criminal charges, as well as freeing American student Xiyue Wang from an Iranian prison.

NBC News did not take into account the Trump administration’s track record on negotiating the release of hostages, nor did it fairly portray how difficult it can be to convince a foreign government to release said hostages, as in the case of Kassem in Egypt. The news outlet blamed the Trump administration for not doing enough, although the vice president and State Department got involved in pressuring the Egyptian government to release Kassem. It should have acknowledged that although the U.S. government did what it could, it did not change Egypt’s mind about freeing Kassem from prison, which was out of the U.S.’s control.

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