Following a pattern on Special Report, Angle distorted Levin quote on domestic surveillance

››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN

Jim Angle falsely claimed that Sen. Carl Levin accused the Bush administration of "orchestrat[ing]" leaks to the media about its own domestic surveillance program. Media Matters for America has noted four other instances, all on Fox News' Special Report, in which Angle and other Fox News correspondents have cropped or misrepresented quotes from Democratic senators.

On the May 18 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Fox News chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle falsely claimed that Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) accused the Bush administration of "orchestrat[ing]" leaks to the media about its own domestic surveillance program. Media Matter for America has noted four other recent instances (here, here, here, and here), all on Special Report, in which Angle and other Fox news correspondents have cropped or misrepresented quotes from Democratic senators.

In a report about the Senate confirmation hearing of Gen. Michael V. Hayden for CIA director, Angle falsely claimed that in one of the hearing's "stranger moments," Levin "actually suggested" that leaks to The New York Times and USA Today about the National Security Agency's (NSA) domestic surveillance program "were deliberate and orchestrated by the administration." Angle then aired a portion of Levin's comments from the May 18 hearing:

ANGLE: In one of the stranger moments, Senator Levin actually suggested that reporters had been used, that the leaks about NSA programs were deliberate and orchestrated by the administration.

LEVIN: Disclosing parts of the program that might be the most palatable and acceptable to the American people while maintaining secrecy -- until they're leaked -- about parts that may be troubling to the public is not acceptable.

But as the full context of Levin's comments makes clear, Levin did not accuse the Bush administration of "orchestrat[ing]" leaks about the program. Rather, Levin accused the Bush administration of publicly disclosing selected parts of the surveillance program while "maintaining secrecy" of the most controversial elements of the program "until they're leaked."

Levin complained that the only publicly available information about the potentially "troubling" aspects of the program comes from "unverifiable leaks." As an example, Levin pointed to USA Today's May 11 report, which first revealed that the NSA "has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans." Levin did not accuse the Bush administration of orchestrating such leaks.

From Levin's May 18 statement:

LEVIN: Over the past six months, we have been engaged in a national debate about NSA's electronic surveillance program and the telephone records of American citizens. That debate has been hobbled because so much about the program remains classified.

Public accounts about it are mainly references by the administration, which are selective and incomplete, or the result of unverifiable leaks.

For example, the administration has repeatedly characterized the electronic surveillance program as applying only to international phone calls and not involving any domestic surveillance.

In January, the president said, quote, "The program focuses on calls coming from outside of the United States, but not domestic calls." In February, the vice president said, "Some of our critics call this a 'domestic surveillance program.' It is not domestic surveillance."

[U.S.] Ambassador [to the United Nations John D.] Negroponte said, quote, "This is a program that was ordered by the president of the United States with respect to international telephone calls to or from suspected Al Qaeda operatives and their affiliates. This was not about domestic surveillance."

Earlier this year, General Hayden appeared before the [National] Press Club where he said of the program, quote, "The intrusion into privacy is also limited: only international calls."

Now, after listening to the administration's characterizations for many months, America woke up last Thursday to the USA Today headline, quote, "NSA Has Massive Database of Americans' Phone Calls," close quote.

The report said, quote, "The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans. The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans, most of whom aren't suspected of any crime," close quote.

The president says we need to know who Al Qaeda is calling in America. And we surely do.

But the USA Today article describes a government program where the government keeps a database, a record, of the phone numbers that tens of millions of Americans, with no ties to Al Qaeda, are calling.

And the May 12th New York Times article quotes, quote, "[o]ne senior government official," who, quote, "confirmed that the N.S.A. had access to records of most telephone calls in the United States," close quote.

We are not permitted, of course, to publicly assess the accuracy of these reports. But listen for a moment to what people who have been briefed on the program have been able to say publicly.

Stephen Hadley, the president's national security adviser, after talking about what the USA Today article did not claim, said the following, quote, "It's really about calling records, if you read the story -- who was called when and how long did they talk. And these are business records that have been held by the courts not to be protected by a right of privacy. And there are a variety of ways in which these records lawfully can be provided to the government. It's hard to find the privacy issue here," Mr. Hadley said.

[Senate] Majority Leader [Bill] Frist [R-TN] has publicly stated that the program is voluntary. And a member of this committee has said, quote, "The president's program uses information collected from phone companies. The phone companies keep their records. They have a record. And it shows what telephone number called what other telephone number."

So, the leaks are producing piecemeal disclosures, although the program remains highly classified.

Disclosing parts of the program that might be the most palatable and acceptable to the American people while maintaining secrecy -- until they're leaked -- about parts that may be troubling to the public is not acceptable.

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