Media Matters documents the misleading or false claims advanced by media figures and Bush administration supporters in the wake of news that the National Security Agency had since 2001 been secretly collecting records of phone calls made by millions of Americans.
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A Washington Post/ABC News poll on the National Security Agency program to collect phone call records of tens of millions of United States residents found that 63 percent of respondents found the program acceptable. The poll question claimed that the NSA is not "listening to or recording the conversations" captured by the data collection program, but a Post article reported that the program is related to NSA's warrantless domestic eavesdropping program.
On CNN's Live From, CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry suggested that only Democrats are criticizing the just-exposed National Security Agency program that collects phone call records of millions of Americans, as first reported by USA Today. Henry ignored immediate questions and criticism from prominent congressional Republicans such as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (PA), Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (SC), and House Majority Leader John Boehner (OH).
NBC's Lisa Myers and CNN's David Ensor both asserted that data collected by the National Security Agency through a just-exposed program include only "phone calls made and received, but not customers' names and addresses." But they failed to inform viewers about a key point made by USA Today, which broke the story -- that the NSA can easily obtain this information through other databases.
On cbsnews.com's Public Eye weblog, CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod responded to a Media Matters for America item noting his mischaracterization of the debate over the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program. In his response, however, Axelrod continued to misrepresent the "general" debate as one over "electronic surveillance." In doing so, Axelrod sets up the two sides of the debate in precisely the manner advocated by the program's defenders: those in favor of the "electronic eavesdropping of terrorists," as he characterized the debate in the original report, versus those opposed. But contrary to administration accusations, no one has come out in opposition to electronic eavesdropping in general, and certainly not to spying on terrorists.
On PBS' The NewsHour, host Jim Lehrer failed to challenge Rep. Heather Wilson's (R-NM) misleading assertions regarding the Bush administration's warrantless domestic wiretapping program and CIA director nominee Gen. Michael V. Hayden, an architect of the program and one of the administration's point people in defending it.
CBS Evening News correspondent Jim Axelrod, reporting on CIA-director nominee Gen. Michael V. Hayden's forthcoming Senate nomination hearings, noted that "[t]he White House believes it wins any time there's a debate on electronic eavesdropping of terrorists and would welcome the grand stage for Hayden to defend" the Bush administration's warrantless domestic eavesdropping program. However, the debate over the surveillance program is not a question of whether the government can conduct "electronic eavesdropping of terrorists," but rather whether the government can conduct warrantless surveillance of residents of the United States in apparent violation of federal statute.
In a May 5 online article, Time magazine reporters Mike Allen and Timothy J. Burger wrote that the Bush administration's controversial warrantless domestic surveillance program targets domestic phone calls "if one of the parties has known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations." In fact, media reports have revealed that the NSA has monitored the communications of thousands of people with no relationship to Al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations.
In the wake of reports that Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden would be nominated to replace outgoing CIA director Porter Goss, numerous news outlets cited as a source of likely controversy Hayden's role in developing and overseeing the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program. But none of these outlets mentioned Hayden's misleading testimony before Congress in 2002, in which he said that the National Security Agency complies with the requirements of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in conducting surveillance on citizens or legal residents of the United States. Nor did they mention his shifting and contradictory defenses of the domestic surveillance program or his failure to answer questions regarding whether the program has been used to spy on U.S. residents with no ties to terrorism.
Responding to Fox News host Bill O'Reilly's suggestion that "the American press" might be "helping terrorists," New York Post columnist and retired Lt. Col. Ralph Peters claimed that the December 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning report by The New York Times exposing the National Security Agency's warrantless domestic spying program did just that. In fact, contrary to Peters's suggestion that the Times story tipped off terrorists that their communications were being monitored, Al Qaeda has reportedly been taking precautions for years to avoid surveillance of its cell-phone conversations.
Tucker Carlson attacked the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for "not standing up for Rush Limbaugh" while he was being investigated for allegations of committing fraud to obtain prescription painkillers. But in January 2004, the ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Limbaugh's case protesting the state of Florida's seizure of Limbaugh's medical records as a violation of his right to privacy.
On Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Roll Call executive editor Morton M. Kondracke made a false claim to support his characterization -- as "too restrictive" -- of Sen. Mike DeWine's (R-OH) proposed legislation that would establish a "statutory framework" for the Bush administration's warrantless domestic spying program. Despite Kondracke's "too restrictive" claim, DeWine's proposal would strip the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court of the authority to issue or deny warrants while requiring only that the administration notify Congress of the surveillance.
Washington Times columnist Douglas MacKinnon repeated his claim that the December 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning report by The New York Times on the National Security Agency warrantless domestic spying program "hurt the United States dramatically." In making the statement, MacKinnon assumed two things: 1) that the program had been effective before the Times article appeared, and 2) that suspected terrorists altered their conduct after the article. MacKinnon added: "I'm not convinced that if they [the Times reporters] didn't have the information for D-Day on June 6, 1944, they wouldn't have revealed that as well."
Bill O'Reilly asserted that The New York Times wrote a "glowing" article about Mary McCarthy, a senior intelligence officer who was recently fired by the CIA, because she "was leaking stuff to them." However, initial reports of McCarthy's dismissal from the CIA noted that she was fired because of her relationship with Washington Post staff writer Dana Priest and because she allegedly provided information to the press regarding secret CIA detention centers in Europe that was first published in the Post, not in the Times. No news reports have mentioned any relationship between McCarthy and The New York Times.