Roberts selectively cited new CBS poll to falsely suggest that Americans approve of warrantless domestic surveillance

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

CBS' John Roberts selectively cited the results of a poll to claim that Americans support President Bush's warrantless domestic surveillance program, but the full poll results show that the public's view of the program is more evenly divided.

On the January 26 edition of CBS' Evening News, chief White House correspondent John Roberts selectively cited the results of a January 20-25 CBS News/New York Times poll to support his assertion that "President Bush went into today's press conference" -- where he discussed his warrantless domestic surveillance program -- "with a boost." To back up that assertion, Roberts stated that the poll "found 61 percent of Americans believe the eavesdropping is meant to fight terror, and the majority support that." He later asserted, "You take a look at that poll, the majority of Americans think if it's directed at terrorism, it's the right thing to do." But Roberts did not mention poll results showing that only 46 percent of respondents approve of the warrantless surveillance when the "specific reason for the wiretapping -- to reduce the threat of terrorism -- is omitted from the question."

A reading of the entire poll indicates that, contrary to Roberts's assertion, the public's view of the warrantless surveillance program appears to be more evenly divided than he suggested. When Roberts asserted that a "majority support" the program, an onscreen graphic stated that 53 percent of respondents approved of Bush's warrantless surveillance program. The full poll document reported that when respondents were told that the purpose of the program is to "fight terrorism," 53 percent said they approved of it while 46 percent said they disapproved -- a result within the poll's four-point margin of error. (The onscreen graphic noted the margin of error, although the results document did not mention it.) The poll document itself states that "[t]he public is divided over the President's authorization of wiretaps," and -- contrary to Roberts's assertion that the poll had given Bush a "boost" -- the poll notes that "[t]he results [regarding approval for the program if its purpose is to fight terrorism] are similar to those seen nearly three weeks ago [49 percent approval; 48 percent disapproval], soon after news reports about the wiretaps appeared." Further, as the poll documents, "When the specific reason for the wiretapping -- to reduce the threat of terrorism -- is omitted from the question, the number of Americans who approve of this action drops by 7 points" to 46-percent approval, with 50-percent disapproval.

Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer suggested that the poll shows that "perhaps the Democrats are weak" in the fight against terrorism, but the poll asked no questions regarding Democrats and fighting terrorism.

From the January 26 edition of CBS' Evening News:

ROBERTS: On the NSA spying program, President Bush went into today's press conference with a boost. A new CBS News/New York Times poll found 61 percent of Americans believe the eavesdropping is meant to fight terror, and the majority support that. The president insisted again, today, he's on solid legal ground and was skeptical about increasing talk in Congress to write new laws covering the program.

BUSH [video clip]: If the attempt to write law makes this program -- is likely to expose the nature of the program, I'll resist it. Why tell the enemy what we're doing if the program is necessary to protect us from the enemy?

ROBERTS: Even if Congress were to write new laws, the larger question is: Would President Bush feel obligated to conduct the eavesdropping only under those rules? From a legal standpoint, not likely. But if Congress gives him everything he needs, political pressures may dictate that he has to. Bob?

SCHIEFFER: You know, John, it looks to me as if the president has decided to make this a political issue to show that he is strong in the fight against terrorism and perhaps the Democrats are weak. And I must say looking at that poll, he may be succeeding.

ROBERTS: A political issue and a national security issue which history would show the president does very well on. You take a look at that poll, the majority of Americans think if it's directed at terrorism, it's the right thing to do, Bob.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Domestic Spying
Network/Outlet
CBS
Person
John Roberts
Show/Publication
CBS Evening News
Stories/Interests
Polling
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