In a January 23 speech defending his warrantless domestic surveillance program, President Bush claimed that Congress' 2001 authorization of force, upheld by the Supreme Court in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, establishes his authority to conduct the program. But numerous legal authorities have objected to Bush's claim that the high court affirmed his authority to wiretap U.S. residents without a warrant. Despite these objections, several news outlets repeated Bush's claim without challenge.
NBC's Andrea Mitchell claimed that recent polls on President Bush's authorization of warrantless wiretapping showed "little public outcry over the program, especially when [the administration] tell[s] people it is limited only to those who talk to Al Qaeda." What Mitchell did not note is that the administration's characterization of the program understates its scope. Moreover, recent polling shows that support for the program is at best split.
CBS anchor Bob Schieffer reported that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld rejected a Democratic study that showed that the military has been strained by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Schieffer did not note that Rumsfeld also rejected a Pentagon-funded report that came to a similar conclusion.
The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and Knight Ridder reported on a 2002 Justice Department statement explaining its refusal to support a bill proposed by Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The statement appears to undermine several of the Bush administration's key arguments for conducting warrantless domestic surveillance. While these papers have highlighted the 2002 Justice Department statement, the media have yet to report that the administration's response to that disclosure from 2002 contradicts numerous statements it has made in defense of the surveillance program.
Fox News chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle distorted remarks made by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) to falsely claim that Kennedy said the Bush administration's warrantless domestic spying program as Bush described it does not violate the law. In fact, the next sentence of Kennedy's statement indicated that he and the Congressional Research Service believe such activities operate outside of the law.
ABC's World News Tonight uncritically reported President Bush's discredited claim that the National Security Agency might have identified some of the 9-11 terrorists before the attacks if his warrantless domestic surveillance program had been in place.
In his Washington Times column, Donald Lambro repeated a number of falsehoods about the domestic spying scandal.
An Associated Press article described the debate over the NSA spying program as "whether the administration should be able to eavesdrop on suspected terrorist communications" and reported that "congressional Democrats" have criticized this practice. However, critics of the program have not contested that the administration "should be able to eavesdrop on suspected terrorist communications." Rather, the controversy concerns whether the president is legally authorized to allow the domestic eavesdropping without first obtaining a warrant.
Fox News' John Gibson allowed Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) to claim that Democrats originally supported President Bush's warrantless domestic spying program but now "they're starting to change their story," even though several Democratic members of Congress have said they expressed concerns about the program at the time and even though Hoekstra himself has agreed that the Bush administration's briefings on the program did not meet legal requirements.
In his speech before the National Security Agency, President Bush repeated a debunked claim, previously reported uncritically by some in the media, that his warrantless domestic spying program could have identified some of the 9-11 hijackers. Bush's repetition of the claim gives the media another opportunity to examine it critically in their reporting.
NBC Today co-host Matt Lauer failed to challenge Sen. John McCain's misleading claims that "members of Congress -- including Democrats -- were briefed" on President Bush's warrantless domestic spying program "and there didn't seem to be ... any public outcry until recently." In fact, of the seven Democratic lawmakers known to have been briefed on the domestic spying program prior to its disclosure by The New York Times, three have said they objected privately at the time, and three more have said they weren't given adequate information about the program. Moreover, these lawmakers could not have raised "any public outcry," because the briefings were classified.
Numerous media outlets have cited Gen. Michael V. Hayden's defense of the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program while ignoring a Justice Department statement from June 2002 that contradicted Hayden's claims. Now that the statement has surfaced, will those media outlets now report the facts undermining Hayden's defense?
CNN's David Ensor reported that the upcoming Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on President Bush's warrantless domestic surveillance program are being held to determine "whether the law should be changed to require court approval of all domestic surveillance." In fact, the purpose of the hearings, as described by the committee chairman, is to determine whether the president had the constitutional authority to ignore the law.
Many news outlets have uncritically repeated Gen. Michael Hayden's claim that the administration's warrantless spying program would have detected some of the 9-11 attackers.
In coverage of President Bush's January 23 speech at Kansas State University, evening news broadcasts on ABC, CBS, and NBC uncritically reported Bush's assertion that his "briefing Congress" about his authorization of warrantless domestic wiretaps by the National Security Agency shows that he believed the wiretapping program was legal; however, members of Congress from both parties have disputed the claim that they were adequately briefed. Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) said that the "program in fact goes far beyond the measures to target Al Qaeda about which I was briefed."