CNN's Malveaux, Henry touted Snow's "candor," "bluntness," "honesty," ignored his false and misleading answers at first press briefingMay 17, 2006 12:37 PM EDT ››› JOE BROWN
In reporting on new White House press secretary Tony Snow's first televised press briefing May 16, CNN White House correspondents Suzanne Malveaux and Ed Henry praised Snow's "candor," "bluntness," and "honesty" while overlooking Snow's false or, at best, misleading answers to questions from reporters at the briefing.
On the May 16 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, Malveaux stated:
MALVEAUX: [H]e has brought a -- obviously a sense of humility, a sense of humor and a really kind of a bluntness, a sense of honesty that is refreshing to many people in the room. He clearly, when he doesn't know something, just flat-out says so.
She touted Snow's "refreshing candor," noting instances where Snow corrected himself or declined to answer a question due to a lack of knowledge on his part.
Similarly, on the May 16 edition of CNN's Live From, Henry touted Snow's "candor," citing an instance in which Snow "slipped up about a legislative matter" and "quickly corrected himself."
Although Malveaux noted several "artful and blunt dodges" by Snow, and Henry noted that "the administration's critics might say right from the get-go, Tony Snow [was] ducking some questions," neither reporter informed viewers that several of Snow's answers were false or misleading at best.
For instance, as the weblog Think Progress noted, in his first response to a reporter, Snow denied that at his press conference with Australian Prime Minister John Howard earlier in the day, President Bush gave "a backhanded confirmation" of the newly revealed National Security Agency (NSA) program that reportedly obtains the call records of tens of millions of Americans. In fact, contrary to Snow's later categorical denial that Bush had confirmed the existence of the program, when a reporter at Bush's press conference asked about "the NSA compiling a list of their [Americans'] telephone calls," and did not mention any other program, Bush appeared to confirm the existence of the program by stating that "[t]he program he's asking about is one that has been fully briefed to members of the United States Congress."
Additionally, Snow misrepresented media reports on the NSA program, claiming that the USA Today article first revealing it reported that "there is no personal information that is being relayed [to the NSA]. There is no name, there is no address ... there's no description of who the party on the other end is." But as Media Matters for America previously noted, the USA Today article also reported that "[c]ustomers' names, street addresses and other personal information" can "easily" be obtained by the NSA by cross-referencing customers' call records with other databases. Further, Snow noted that the USA Today article stated there is no wiretapping of individual calls; as Media Matters also noted, The Washington Post has reported that the program is "related to" the NSA's warrantless domestic surveillance program "because it helps the NSA choose its targets for listening."
Further, Snow cited an ABC News/Washington Post poll, asserting that "something like 64 percent of the polling was not troubled" by the NSA program. When a reporter noted that other polls "show Americans are very concerned" about the program, Snow claimed that "when people were given the specifics in that story, they did not seem to be terribly troubled." Snow's claim was similar to one made by Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume, criticizing a USA Today poll for not noting -- as the ABC/Post poll did -- "that the NSA database program does not involve listening to or recording telephone conversations." The USA Today poll found that a majority of Americans disapproved of the administration's reported collection of phone data. But as Media Matters pointed out, a Newsweek poll conducted May 11-12 that was worded similarly to the ABC/Post poll that Snow apparently cited, also showed that a majority disapproved of the reported program.
From the May 16 White House press briefing:
QUESTION: In his news conference with John Howard, was the president giving kind of a backhanded confirmation of the stories that the NSA is compiling telephone lists --
SNOW: No, he wasn't. If you go back and listen to the answer he gave you, he was talking about foreign-to-domestic calls. The allegations in the USA Today piece, which we'll neither confirm or deny, are of a different nature. So, no, he was not giving a backhanded confirmation.
QUESTION: Well, he said they're very aware of what is taking place, and he said the question he's asking about has been fully briefed to members in the United States Congress.
SNOW: Well, what he's talking about is that all intelligence matters conducted by the National Security Agency -- and we've said this many times -- have been fully briefed to a handful of members of the Senate Intelligence and House Intelligence committees and to the leadership.
QUESTION: So he's neither confirming or --
SNOW: He's not -- no, you're not getting any advance on previous news on that question.
QUESTION: The president today denied he'd ever broken the law in terms of wiretaps. He also indicated that anything that was looked into, any calls, had some sort of foreign aspect, either to or from. And he has says he's always obeyed the law. Are all of these stories untrue that we've been reading for the last several days that millions of Americans have been wiretapped?
SNOW: Well, there is -- OK, well, let's --
QUESTION: Are the phone calls turned over to the government?
SNOW: OK, let's try to segregate the stories here. What he's said about the terror surveillance program is that these are foreign-to-domestic calls and they were all done within the parameters of the law. He has not commented on the --
QUESTION: He, himself, has said he didn't obey that law.
SNOW: No, he didn't. What he said is that he has done everything within the confines of the law. The second thing is, you're mentioning a USA Today story about which this administration has no comment. But I would direct you back to the USA Today story itself, and if you analyze what that story said, what did it say? It said there is no wiretapping of individual calls, there is no personal information that is being relayed. There is no name, there is no address, there is no consequence of the calls, there's no description of who the party on the other end is.
QUESTION: You might repeat the same thing, but why not declassify this? I mean, the president did talk about the surveillance program a day after The New York Times broke that story. This would seem to affect far more people, and it did sound like the president was confirming that story today. He was answering Terry's question --
SNOW: Well, if you go back -- if you go back and you look through what he said, there was a reference to foreign-to-domestic calls. I am not going to stand up here and presume to declassify any kind of program. That is a decision the president has to make. I can't confirm or deny it. The president was not confirming or denying.
Again, I would take you back to the USA Today story, simply to give you a little context. Look at the poll that appeared the following day. While there was -- part of it said 51 percent of the American people opposed, if you look at when people said, if there is a roster of phone numbers, do you feel comfortable that -- I'm paraphrasing and I apologize -- but something like 64 percent of the polling was not troubled by it. Having said that, I don't want to hug the tar baby of trying to comment on the program -- the alleged program -- the existence of which I can neither confirm nor deny.
QUESTION: But there are polls that show Americans are very concerned about it.
SNOW: But the president -- you cannot run a security -- you cannot base national security on poll numbers. As the president of the United States, you have to make your own judgments about what is in the nation's best interest.
QUESTION: You just brought it up, though.
SNOW: Well, I did bring it up because what you were talking about is how people were concerned about privacy issues, and I tried to relate to you what happened. It was interesting, when people were given the specifics in that story, they did not seem to be terribly troubled.
QUESTION: We are now.
SNOW: Well, that may have more to do with the way it's being spun than the way it's actually -- go ahead.
From President Bush's May 16 press conference with Howard:
QUESTION: Mr. President, you've said that the government is not trolling through the lives of innocent Americans, but why shouldn't ordinary people feel that their privacy is invaded by the NSA compiling a list of their telephone calls?
BUSH: What I have told the American people is, we'll protect them against an Al Qaeda attack, and we'll do so within the law. I've been very clear about the principles and guidelines of any program that has been designed to protect the American people.
I've also been clear about the fact that we do not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval, and that this government will continue to guard the privacy of the American people. But if Al Qaeda is calling into the United States, we want to know, and we want to know why.
For the Australian press friends here, we got accused of not connecting dots prior to September the 11th, and we're going to connect dots to protect the American people, within the law. The program he's asking about is one that has been fully briefed to members of the United States Congress, in both political parties. They are very aware of what is taking place. The American people expect their government to protect them, within the laws of this country, and I'm going to continue to do just that.
From the May 16 edition of CNN's Live From...:
KYRA PHILLIPS (anchor): But apart from the hardballs, the briefing also had its softer moments, wouldn't you say, Ed?
HENRY: Oh, absolutely. I mean, you know I think you saw right there -- the administration's critics might say right from the get-go, Tony Snow ducking some tough questions. I think his supporters would say that he's pushing back against some of us in the media there and showing some of the skills he picked up in TV and radio and elsewhere. And I can tell you, there was a lot of chatter afterwards among reporters about how he seemed to really pick up the pace in there in the room, moved a lot quicker than Scott McClellan did, got to more reporters' questions because of that. Also used humor, used some candor. At one point, he slipped up about a legislative matter, quickly corrected himself. And I can tell you, I think he likes that give and take. After that, and when it ended, off-camera he was overheard saying, "I'm going to love this job." And I also talked to a former Clinton press person, who admitted from the other side, this person felt that Tony Snow did a skillful job on the first day of pushing back, in getting the administration line out there, although this particular Clinton person told me that she thinks it would be a good idea to take off the coffee cup. I don't know if you saw it, but on the podium Tony Snow had a paper coffee cup with the presidential seal on it with him, and this particular person thought it was a little tacky. But it was sort of a lighthearted comment, though.
From the May 16 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
MALVEAUX: Well, Wolf, as you know, of course, facing us has sometimes been compared -- likened to feeding sharks or even turning yourself into a human piñata. But dare I say, today, his first on-camera briefing, Tony Snow did pretty well.
[begin video clip]
SNOW: I feel so loved.
MALVEAUX: For the self-proclaimed new kid on the block, today was his first day of school.
HELEN THOMAS (Hearst Newspapers columnist): Are all of these stories untrue that we've been reading for the last several days, how millions of Americans have been wiretapped?
SNOW: OK. Let's try to segregate the stories here.
MALVEAUX: In a standing-room-only crowd, a chance to meet the class bullies.
CARL CAMERON (Fox News chief White House correspondent): You just a second ago, you said you guarantee it's going to go to conference. So you already know that the Senate's going to pass this?
DAVID GREGORY (NBC chief White House correspondent): Because these aren't new issues, Tony.
JIM AXELROD (CBS chief White House correspondent): Now, hasn't he attached all of his political capital to an issue that may very well be DOA [dead on arrival]?
MALVEAUX: And class clowns.
LES KINSOLVING (Baltimore radio host and WorldNetDaily.com White House correspondent): Is the president opposed to contraception or not?
MALVEAUX: On his first day under the hot lights and heated questions from the White House press corps, there were artful and blunt dodges.
SNOW: I can't confirm or deny it. The president was not confirming or denying it.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why won't you comment at all on the USA Today story, or at least talk in a limited way about how average Americans' phone records are handled by the National Security Agency?
SNOW: Because it's inappropriate.
MALVEAUX: Does the president agree with that? And what did he mean when he said today, "We are not going to discriminate against people?"
SNOW: Well, Suzanne, I think I will not try to improve on the president's words from today.
MALVEAUX: And refreshing candor.
SNOW: The United States -- let me just make it very general -- the United States is aware of -- it supports the continuing efforts of the EU three to work -- am I getting it wrong? OK, well -- OK -- thank you very much.
SNOW: You know what, rather than have me fake it, I will get a precise number to you --
SNOW: I overstepped and should not be making predictions about what the Senate will do. We'll leave it to the senators themselves.
WOLF BLITZER (anchor): Suzanne, you were there. You were in the briefing room. You've listened to a lot of White House press secretaries deliver these briefings. Do you think he did a good job? I was watching the whole thing on television. He clearly brings a different style to the White House briefing room than his predecessor did.
MALVEAUX: Some are calling him "the Un-Scott." But what I can say about him so far is that he really has brought a -- obviously a sense of humility, a sense of humor and, really, kind of a bluntness and a sense of honesty that is refreshing to many people in the room. He clearly, when he doesn't know something, just flat-out says so. Obviously, he's going to get a tougher way to go in the weeks to come, when he comes up with that response. But it was very emotional to see him -- several of us sharing in that emotion when he teared up over his own story about surviving cancer.
BLITZER: We wish him only the best. Thank you, Suzanne. Tony Snow's got a tough job indeed.