Time White House correspondent Mike Allen, Fox News White House correspondent Wendell Goler, and Roll Call executive editor Morton M. Kondracke praised White House press secretary Tony Snow's handling of his first televised press conference. In fact, Snow gave numerous misleading and even false answers to reporters' questions regarding the National Security Agency's phone data collection controversy.
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In reporting and commenting on White House press secretary Tony Snow's first televised press conference on May 16, Time White House correspondent Mike Allen praised Snow for "sticking to the facts that he knew," while Fox News White House correspondent Wendell Goler and Roll Call executive editor Morton M. Kondracke praised Snow's handling of the controversy over the National Security Agency's (NSA) recently disclosed phone data collection program, saying he "peel[ed] fiction from fact" and "did an especially good job tightrope-walking," respectively. In fact, Snow gave numerous misleading and even false answers to reporters' questions regarding the NSA data collection controversy.
As Media Matters for America noted, Snow made a number of claims that were misleading at best. The weblog Think Progress noted that Snow, in his first response to a reporter, denied that Bush had given "a backhanded confirmation" of the NSA program at an earlier press conference with Australian Prime Minister John Howard. In fact, 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."
Further, Snow cited a May 11 ABC News/Washington Post, 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 echoed Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume's criticism of a May 12-13 USA Today/Gallup poll for not noting -- as the earlier ABC News/Washington 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 noted, a Newsweek poll conducted May 11-12 that was worded similarly to the Washington Post poll that Snow apparently cited, also showed that a majority disapproved of the reported program.
Even in the specific exchange about which Goler said Snow "tried to peel fiction from fact," Snow made misrepresentations that Goler did not note. On the May 16 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Goler played video of a portion of an exchange between Snow and Hearst Newspapers columnist Helen Thomas:
GOLER: And from veteran reporter-turned-columnist Helen Thomas, questions mixed with opinions, in this case about the National Security Agency's telephone data-mining.
THOMAS [video clip]: Are all of these stories untrue that we've been reading for the last several days, that millions of Americans have been wiretapped?
GOLER: Snow first tried to peel fiction from fact.
SNOW [video clip]: Let's try to segregate the stories here.
GOLER: Then he launched into a defense of the president he probably didn't expect to finish.
[begin video clip]
SNOW: What he [President Bush] said about the terrorist surveillance program is that these were foreign-to-domestic calls and they were all done within the parameters of the law. He has not commented on the --
THOMAS: 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.
[end video clip]
Goler's video clip, however, omitted Snow's subsequent claims about the NSA phone data collection program:
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.
As Media Matters previously noted, however, 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 -- undercutting Snow's claim that "there is no personal information that is being relayed," and "no description of who the party on the other end is." Also, Snow's assertion that the USA Today article reported that "there is no wiretapping of individual calls" is misleading. As Media Matters noted, The Washington Post has reported that the program is "related to" the NSA's warrantless domestic surveillance program, as it aids in the selection of eavesdropping targets.
Similarly, Kondracke, during the "All-Star Panel" segment from the May 16 edition of Special Report, praised Snow for doing "an especially good job tightrope-walking on the issue of the USA Today story," and for "talking about it and reciting what ... was in the story":
HUME: Did you think that the questions were less fanged than --
KONDRACKE: Yeah, yeah, I did. I mean, I felt a little less combative than they usually are, and they'll get more combative. I thought that he did an especially good job tightrope-walking on the issue of the USA Today story. He said, "We're not going to confirm or deny that story." Then he started talking about it and reciting what, what --
HUME: What was in the story.
KONDRACKE: -- what was in the story. But he also said -- and I think this is great -- "We don't have any obligation to make our intelligence-gathering transparent. Al Qaeda doesn't believe in transparency. What Al Qaeda believes in is mayhem, and the president has a constitutional obligation and heartfelt determination to make sure we fight it." That's great. That's good stuff.
On the May 16 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, Allen praised Snow for being "very astute about sticking to the facts that he knew":
MATTHEWS: Well, Mike, you're one of the really good, intensive reporters. You penetrate behind some of the flackery, and that's what this is that comes out of the White House. Could you tell how far he got into the inner sanctum to get briefed himself this morning?
ALLEN: Well, Tony was very astute about sticking to the facts that he knew. He hasn't been afraid to say, "That's getting beyond my brief," and he had a very effective way of disarming some of the questions. A few people maybe tried to show off a little bit, and he sort of treated people as if he might treat callers to his radio show. He just stopped back and said, "Wait, what are you saying here?" Or, "I don't mean to be dumb, here, but how would this -- how would that be the case?"