Couric pitted constitutional scholars versus "Americans" who "don't want another September 11"

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

NBC Today host Katie Couric, in an interview with Tim Russert, characterized the debate about the Bush administration's domestic spying as a controversy between "legal analysts and constitutional scholars" on the one hand and "Americans" who "don't want another September 11" on the other.

On the December 19 broadcast of NBC's Today, host Katie Couric asked NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert whether the debate over the Bush administration's secret use of domestic surveillance without a warrant amounted to "legal analysts and constitutional scholars versus Americans, who say civil liberties are important, but we don't want another September 11." Russert responded, "Exactly right."

Couric's assertion, with which Russert agreed, is problematic for numerous reasons. First, Couric's question suggested that the very act of questioning President Bush's legal authority to undertake domestic surveillance is inconsistent with wanting to prevent "another September 11." Second, Couric's statement suggested that the view of "constitutional scholars" that Bush should obey the law is at odds with the views of most Americans. Third, the statement suggested that Americans support the Bush administration's apparent position that it has unlimited authority to do whatever it deems necessary -- regardless of the law -- to prevent another terrorist attack. Finally, the statement sets up exactly the false debate that the administration is advocating in its defense of its practice of engaging in domestic surveillance. For example, Vice President Dick Cheney defended the practice as necessary to protect national security. He said, "It's the kind of capability -- if we'd had before 9-11 -- might have led us to be able to prevent 9-11." And Bush himself, in a December 17 radio address, argued that the secret eavesdropping program was necessary to "detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks in the United States."

From the December 19 broadcast of NBC's Today:

COURIC: At the same time, Tim, you know, considering the Constitution, the rule of law, is this going to be a case of a debate by legal analysts and constitutional scholars versus Americans, who say civil liberties are important, but we don't want another September 11?

RUSSERT: Exactly right. The court of public opinion and what's going on in Congress.

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