Very little in or about an NBC News special on terrorism tonight commands much attention, but a few times during the hour NBC unreels still more footage from its controversial interview with Palestinian terrorist Mohammed Abul Abbas, and in one of those segments, Abbas offers a reward of $1 million "to whomever hands President Reagan to us, the Palestinian Revolution, to be tried. I guarantee this sum."
This bit of smarmy bellicosity could have been included in the Abbas segments that aired on the May 5 "NBC Nightly News" or the May 6 "Today" show, but NBC News cagily saved it to spice up "The Achille Lauro: A Study in Terror," which airs in the "1986" time slot, and is introduced by "1986" anchors Roger Mudd and Connie Chung, at 10 tonight on Channel 4.
Without the Abbas segments, the hour is a perfunctory rehash of last year's Achille Lauro hijacking, narrated by Tom Brokaw, boy anchor. He strolls across locations in Rome, Jerusalem and aboard the Achille Lauro itself, putting it all together chronologically, which seems rather pointless now, and putting it into the kind of perspective any moderately informed citizen could muster with no help from him.
The report lacks the authoritative urgency that Pierre Salinger brought to his three-hour, 1981 ABC News documentary on the end of the Iranian hostage crisis, "The Secret Negotiations."
Such details as the precise logistics of the Navy's intercept of the EgyptAir plane carrying the hijackers seem of little consequence today. The script, by Brokaw and director Paul W. Greenberg, goes for the occasional melodramatic flourish, as when Brokaw says of murdered passenger Leon Klinghoffer's widow, "She left that boat a shattered woman. Her friends will never forget."
At that point we hear from two fellow hijacking victims, apparently the friends in question, who had already been seen at other points in the documentary. They don't say they will never forget. One of them says she won't be traveling abroad again in the near future, however.
Since the Abbas material is by far the most volatile and compelling, it does seem NBC missed the boat, as it were, by not concentrating the hour on him and terrorists like him. The new or recycled material on the Achille Lauro is not of sufficient value to justify an hour-long retrospective.
NBC News has been roundly and widely criticized for the manner in which it obtained the audience with Abbas. The network agreed as a ground rule not to divulge to American authorities the location of the interview. The way news executives and spokesmen subsequently dealt with this criticism seemed arrogant, and the way segments of the interview have been parceled out, to sustain as many broadcasts as possible, seems now opportunistic and lurid.
*Abbas is shown to be a liar, both when he maintains that "no killing took place" aboard the Achille Lauro and when he says that he and his fellow terrorists try to avoid the slaughter of innocents. In fact, the report shows, they attacked an Israeli resort village in which there were no military targets. Witnesses recount the horror.
All of this could have been part of a good documentary on the ongoing nightmare of terrorism. Instead it is part of a bad one on the Achille Lauro incident. Perhaps NBC market research indicated this was a hook that would be a grabber for viewers. It may grab them, but it won't enlighten them -- assuming that sort of thing still matters.