CNN's Quijano uncritically reported dubious Bush statement suggesting link between U.K. terror plot, warrantless wiretaps

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

CNN correspondent Elaine Quijano uncritically reported a dubious statement by President Bush suggesting a link between a recent terror plot in Britain and the administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program. And host Wolf Blitzer did not identify the program as warrantless, although it is the administration's failure to obtain warrants to conduct surveillance on U.S. persons that is the issue in controversy and the reason a judge struck down the program.

On the August 18 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, CNN correspondent Elaine Quijano uncritically reported a dubious statement by President Bush suggesting a link between a recent terror plot in Britain and the administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program. In response to a question about a federal judge's ruling striking down the warrantless domestic surveillance program, Bush stated: "I would say that those who herald this decision simply do not understand the nature of the world in which we live. You might remember last week, working with the -- with people in Great Britain -- we disrupted a plot. People were trying to come and kill people." Quijano quoted Bush's remark that "those who herald this decision simply do not understand the nature of the world in which we live," and then uncritically reported that Bush identified "the recently foiled airliner terror plot as an example of the threats that exist." In fact, as Media Matters for America documented, media reports cast considerable doubt on Bush's assertion that intelligence gathered through the warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens and legal residents helped thwart the attack on airliners traveling from the United Kingdom to the United States.

Additionally, host Wolf Blitzer did not identify the program as warrantless, referring to it as Bush's "wiretap program" and "the president's domestic surveillance program." It is precisely the administration's circumvention of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in failing to obtain warrants to conduct surveillance on U.S. persons that is the issue in controversy and the reason the judge struck down the program.

Quijano's report came one day after CNN justice correspondent Kelli Arena reported that "[g]overnment officials" believe the incident is "a primary example of why the U.S. government sometimes needs to listen in on international communications without a warrant," as Media Matters noted. In addition to uncritically repeating a link from the warrantless surveillance to the British terror plot, several CNN hosts and reports have more generally asserted that the warrantless wiretaps have been critical to the Bush administration's attempts to defeat terrorists, despite a lack of evidence that the administration must violate the law to protect the country or that warrantless domestic wiretapping has been effective in combating terrorists, as Media Matters has also noted.

From the August 18 President Bush press availability:

QUESTION: Mr. President, the federal ruling yesterday that declared your terrorist surveillance program unconstitutional. The judge wrote that it was never the intent of the framers to give the president such unfettered control. How do you respond, sir, to opponents who say that this ruling is really the first nail in the coffin of your administration's legal strategy in the war on terror?

BUSH: I would say that those who herald this decision simply do not understand the nature of the world in which we live. You might remember last week working with the -- with people in Great Britain -- we disrupted a plot. People were trying to come and kill people.

This country of ours is at war, and we must give those who are -- whose responsibility it is to protect the United States the tools necessary to protect this country in a time of war. The judge's decision was a -- I strongly disagree with that decision, strongly disagree. That's why I instructed the Justice Department to appeal immediately. And I believe our appeals will be upheld.

I made my position clear about this war on terror. And by the way, the enemy made their position clear yet again when we were able to stop them. And I -- the American people expect us to protect them, and therefore I put this program in place. We believe -- strongly believe it's constitutional.

From the August 18 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

BLITZER: Happening now, President Bush says critics of domestic spying just don't understand the world in which we live. It's 4 p.m. at Camp David, Maryland, where the president disputes a judge's ruling that his wiretap program is unconstitutional.

[...]

BLITZER: Today, President Bush launches a counterattack. It's aimed at federal -- a federal judge's ruling yesterday that the president's domestic surveillance program is illegal. But at his Camp David retreat, the president is fighting a defensive battle on a number of other fronts as well. Let's go live to our White House correspondent Elaine Quijano. Elaine?

QUIJANO: And Wolf, after his annual August meeting with is economic team, President Bush hit back hard today against not only that federal judge's ruling out of Michigan but also critics who have touted the judge's opinion. Now an appellate hearing is set for next month, and the president said that he does expect the administration to win that appeal one day after that federal judge's ruling, which called the NSA [National Security Agency] surveillance program unconstitutional. The president staunchly defended the warrantless wiretaps. And with just 81 days until the congressional midterm elections, the president took a swipe at his critics: Democrats who say that the ruling shows the Bush administration has mishandled the terrorism fight.

In response, the president said quote, "[T]hose who herald this decision simply do not understand the nature of the world in which we live," end quote. He also pointed to the recently foiled airliner terror plot as an example of the threats that exist.

BUSH [video clip]: This country of ours is at war, and we must give those who are -- whose responsibility it is to protect the United States the tools necessary to protect this country in a time of war. The judge's decision was a -- I strongly disagree with that decision, strongly disagree. That's why I instructed the Justice Department to appeal immediately. And I believe our appeals will be upheld.

QUIJANO: So, Wolf, as we've heard before many times, the president saying once more that the NSA surveillance program, he believes, is both legal and necessary.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Domestic Spying, National Security & Foreign Policy, Terrorism
Network/Outlet
CNN
Person
Elaine Quijano
Show/Publication
The Situation Room
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