Today, Good Morning America provided detention bill supporters' arguments, ignored opposition

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

In their coverage of President Bush's signing later that morning of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, NBC News' Kelly O'Donnell reported that "there has been plenty of controversy" surrounding the bill but did not elaborate on what that controversy might be, while ABC News' Kate Snow did not mention that there is opposition to the bill, much less any of the reasons for that opposition.

In their coverage of President Bush's signing later that morning of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, both NBC's Today and ABC's Good Morning America adopted or reported the arguments of the legislation's supporters, but provided no substantive coverage of the bill's opponents or their specific reasons for opposing the bill. Wholly absent from their coverage was any mention of the bill's most controversial provision, which, as Media Matters for America has noted, effectively grants the president the authority to detain any non-citizen in the United States or outside its borders, for any reason, and for as long as the campaign against terrorism continues. Also, as Media Matters has noted, several Senate Democrats stressed this provision in their denunciations of the bill. Moreover, as Media Matters has further noted, Bush has asserted the same authority with respect to U.S. citizens, a claim that the bill leaves unaddressed.

On Today, NBC White House correspondent Kelly O'Donnell reported that "there has been plenty of controversy about [the bill]." But, rather than provide any substantive explanation of the "controversy," O'Donnell simply reported that, whatever that "controversy" might be, "the White House believes [the bill] will prevent future terrorist attacks." And, on Good Morning America, co-host Kate Snow did not mention that there is opposition to the bill, much less any of the reasons for that opposition.

Neither show explained that the detention legislation does not simply authorize military commissions to try terrorism suspects or regulate interrogation rules. It also denies the right of non-citizens designated by the government as "unlawful enemy combatants" to challenge their detention in federal civilian court through writs of habeas corpus, allowing only a limited right to challenge their status as unlawful enemy combatant. But even that more limited right of challenge can be delayed by the government indefinitely by postponing the detainee's initial hearing to review that designation. In other words, the bill provides no time limit by which suspects deemed unlawful enemy combatants must receive a hearing on their designation, in effect, granting the president the authority to designate any non-citizen an unlawful enemy combatant for any reason for the duration of the "war on terror." As Media Matters has noted, many Democrats strongly objected to this part of the legislation, with 48 senators -- including three Republicans -- voting to remove the habeas-stripping section of the bill.

In addition, Snow described the bill in a way that ignores the bill's broad scope, saying that the legislation "sets the rules for interrogating and trying top terror suspects." But the law does not limit the use of those interrogation procedures to "top terror suspects" but purports to allow their use on anyone -- citizen or non-citizen -- who the government claims is a "terrorism suspect." If, during their "tough[]" interrogation, a "suspect" happens to confirm what the government suspected about them, then the government can bring them before its review board. If not, the statute does not contain a deadline for the government to bring terrorism suspects before a review board, and, at least for non-citizens, purports to eliminate their right to challenge their detention through a writ of habeas corpus.

CBS' The Early Show did not cover the detention bill's signing.

From the October 17 broadcast of ABC's Good Morning America:

SNOW: President Bush is signing the terror detainee bill into law this morning. The measure sets the rules for interrogating and trying top terror suspects. But officials say it may be a month or two before the first military commissions, as they appoint lawyers, set up courtrooms, and collect evidence.

[...]

SNOW: A political victory for the White House as anti-terror legislation becomes law today. President Bush is signing the terrorist detainee bill, clearing the way for new standards to speed up interrogation and prosecution of suspects.

From the October 17 broadcast of NBC's Today:

O'DONNELL: Today, the president signs into law the CIA interrogation bill that will give law enforcement and special operatives an opportunity to use those tougher tactics we've been hearing about in questioning. It also allows for military tribunals to prosecute terror suspects. There's been plenty of controversy about this, but the White House says it believes it will prevent future terror attacks. Meredith.

[...]

ANN CURRY (anchor): President Bush signs the terror detainee bill today that sets boundaries for questioning and trying top terror suspects. The White House says it will immediately begin working toward the prosecution of high-value terror suspects held at Guantánamo Bay.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Detention, National Security & Foreign Policy
Network/Outlet
NBC, ABC
Show/Publication
Today Show, Good Morning America
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