Gibson, Morris falsely claimed that Americans oppose Feingold's censure resolution, support Bush's wiretapping program

››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER

On Fox News, John Gibson and Dick Morris falsely claimed that most Americans oppose censuring President Bush for authorizing the National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop on U.S. persons without warrants, and that Americans actually support Bush's domestic eavesdropping program.

On March 16, Fox News host John Gibson and Fox News political analyst Dick Morris falsely claimed that most Americans oppose censuring President Bush for authorizing the National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop on U.S. persons without warrants, and that Americans actually support Bush's domestic eavesdropping program. Gibson added that "the vast majority" of Americans "think it is absurd and purely political" to impeach Bush over the surveillance. In fact, a recent poll conducted by the American Research Group (ARG) -- the only national poll to date on the censure issue since Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) introduced the censure resolution (S.Res.398) on March 13 -- indicates that a plurality of Americans favor a censure for Bush and 42 percent of respondents believe that Bush should be impeached for the NSA spying, while various polls show that a majority of Americans disapprove of the wiretapping tactics that the Bush administration has used.

On the March 16 edition of The Big Story, Gibson claimed that "the trouble is the vast majority of Americans ... think it is absurd and purely political to push either censure or impeachment over the surveillance program." That evening on Hannity & Colmes, Morris echoed Gibson, saying that Americans "don't believe the president should be censured, particularly in the middle of a war." But according to an ARG poll conducted March 13-15, a plurality of Americans support Feingold's resolution to censure Bush, and nearly half would support impeachment.

According to the poll, 46 percent of adults favored censuring Bush, while 44 percent opposed it; 42 percent supported impeachment, compared with 49 percent who opposed it. When polling voters only, 48 percent supported Feingold's resolution while 43 percent did not, and 43 percent supported impeachment while 50 percent did not. The margin of error was +/-3 percentage points for both questions.

Gibson and Morris also repeated the claim that Americans support Bush's domestic eavesdropping program. On The Big Story, Gibson asserted that Feingold is demanding censure "over something which most Americans actually approve." On Hannity & Colmes, Morris said that the public "overwhelmingly supports Bush on the wiretapping issue."

But as Media Matters for America has documented, most recent polls show that the public opposes Bush's warrantless eavesdropping. A Quinnipiac University poll conducted February 21-28 found that while 79 percent of "American voters say the government should continue monitoring phone calls or e-mail between suspected terrorists in other countries and people in the U.S.," 55 percent say "that the government should get court orders for this surveillance." A CBS News poll conducted February 22-26 asked respondents: "Regardless of whether you approve of the President authorizing the wiretaps, do you think the President has the legal authority to authorize wiretaps without a court warrant in order to fight terrorism, or doesn't he?" Fifty-one percent said the president does not have the legal authority to do so. A February 9-12 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll reported that 50 percent of respondents believed the Bush administration was "wrong" to wiretap "conversations without a court order," while 47 percent said it was "right."

Finally, Gibson claimed that "new records from a secret spying appellate court say" that the NSA surveillance program is legal. Gibson did not explain his reference to "new records," but, as Media Matters for America has previously noted, conservative media figures have frequently claimed that a 2002 opinion by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review (FISCR) establishes that the president can legally authorize warrantless domestic electronic surveillance despite the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act's (FISA) restrictions. As Media Matters has also noted, the court has not ruled whether the president can sidestep FISA in authorizing domestic surveillance without a warrant.

From the March 16 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson:

GIBSON: The far left has once again grabbed the attention away from more realistic Democrats, and presented the country with image of a Democrat leader, Senator Russ Feingold, demanding the censure, perhaps even impeachment, over something which most Americans actually approve. Is the NSA surveillance program illegal? New records from a secret spying appellate court say no, but it has become such a Democrat mantra that they are sure it was illegal. Therefore, the president must be punished, and the left wing is insisting on it. The trouble is the vast majority of Americans approve of listening to Al Qaeda's phone calls and think it is absurd and purely political to push either censure or impeachment over the surveillance program.

From the March 16 broadcast of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

MORRIS: Feingold's pushing the wrong issue. If he was censuring Bush over something like the -- saying there were no -- there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, there he might have a little bit of support. But the public overwhelmingly supports Bush on the wiretapping issue. They want that wiretapping because they think it makes them safe. And they don't believe the president should be censured, particularly not in the middle of war. Remember, this hasn't happened since Andrew Jackson.

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