Media Matters presents the top 12 myths and falsehoods promoted by the media on President Bush's spying scandal stemming from the recent revelation in The New York Times that he authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop on domestic communications without the required approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court.
An Associated Press article on the temporary five-week extension of the USA Patriot Act failed to note that the White House had indicated that President Bush supported only a permanent extension of the act and would not sign "any short-term renewal."
CBS News national correspondent Thalia Assuras misrepresented a quote from Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), falsely reporting that Harman expressed "support" for President Bush's warrantless domestic surveillance program. Media Matters for America has pointed out that Harman also said she is "deeply concerned by reports that this program in fact goes far beyond the measures to target Al Qaeda about which I was briefed."
A December 23 New York Times article by Douglas Jehl on the administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program misleadingly suggested that few Democratic congressional leaders objected to the program. Of the seven Democratic lawmakers known to have been briefed about the program, three objected at the time and three more say they weren't given adequate information about it.
Fox News' Jim Angle misrepresented comments by Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) to suggest that she was satisfied with the Bush administration's briefing of Congress on the use of domestic surveillance when, in fact, she has explicitly said that the surveillance program "goes far beyond the measures to target Al Qaeda about which I was briefed."
Calling in to CNN, Republican attorney Victoria Toensing repeated the false claim that President Clinton carried out the same authority President Bush did with regard to domestic surveillance.
In a Chicago Tribune op-ed, John Schmidt, former associate attorney general under President Clinton, argued that President Bush's decision to authorize warrantless domestic surveillance "is consistent with court decisions and with the positions of the Justice Department under prior presidents." However, Schmidt falsely claimed that Jamie Gorelick, as deputy attorney general under Clinton, testified that the president has the authority to "go beyond" the terms of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Schmidt also offered a number of empty and irrelevant arguments in defense of Bush.
Ann Coulter stated in her December 21 column that "I think the government should be spying on all Arabs, engaging in torture as a televised spectator sport, dropping daisy cutters wantonly throughout the Middle East and sending liberals to Guantanamo."
On Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, National Review editor Rich Lowry falsely claimed that the Clinton administration had asserted "exactly the same authority" that President Bush has cited in defense of his controversial decision to conduct domestic surveillance without warrants, referring to then-Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick's 1994 testimony that the executive branch has "inherent authority to conduct warrantless physical searches." However, physical searches are not the same thing as electronic surveillance and were not restricted at that time by the Foreign Intelligence Authorization Act (FISA), which has since been amended to include them.
Conservatives in the media claimed that Bush's authorization of domestic surveillance by the NSA without warrants is legal under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. However, provisions of the law allow warrantless surveillance of foreign powers only, or for just 15 days following a declaration of war.
On Fox News' Special Report, author Ronald Kessler dismissed as "paranoid conspiracy theories" any suggestion that "the government wants to spy on us" or "go after anti-war protesters." However, according to a NBC Nightly News report, U.S. military intelligence agents are "collecting information on American peace activists and monitoring protests against the Iraq war."
NBC's Andrea Mitchell framed the debate about the domestic spying scandal as a choice between civil liberties and safety, echoing arguments put forth by the Bush administration.
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CNN anchor Kitty Pilgrim claimed that Democratic criticism of President Bush's controversial decision to authorize wiretaps of American citizens without warrants "seems like a clear stand against the president on terror, a fairly risky move given that any day there could be another attack." In fact, the Democrats -- and several Republicans -- might argue that it's a "clear stand" in favor of complying with the law and "clear stand against the president" on civil liberties, not "terror."
The Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, and Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, all reported the White House claim, made repeatedly at President Bush's press conference, that timeliness was the rational for the secret surveillance program, but did not report that current law allows for the government to get a warrant after the fact.
During a December 19 press conference, the White House press corps failed to challenge President Bush's evasive answers and, in some cases, prefaced their questions with praise.