ABC, NBC still haven't covered U.S. attorney firings -- but reported on "purity balls," Jenna Bush's book deal

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

NBC's and ABC's nightly news programs have yet to cover the controversy over the Bush administration's dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys, despite considerable congressional attention to the issue, including hearings begun on March 6.

On March 6, in addition to covering the conviction of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, events in Iraq, and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal, ABC also reported on the rising popularity of "purity balls," a "new ritual aimed at encouraging girls and young women to abstain from sex until marriage," which is "on the cutting edge of a grassroots Christian movement," and reported on a Wikipedia online encyclopedia editor who, as an ABC News online article reported, "forged his credentials and faked having a doctorate." NBC also covered Libby, Iraq, and Walter Reed, and additionally reported on a book deal signed by Jenna Bush, President Bush's daughter.

On March 6, both the House and Senate began hearings into the Bush administration's controversial dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys starting in December 2006. As Media Matters for America has previously noted, the fired attorneys -- three of whom were, according to the The Washington Post, "conducting corruption probes involving Republicans" -- were reportedly replaced, many by with interim appointments drawn from the administration's "inner circle." One former U.S. attorney, David C. Iglesias, has claimed that, in mid-October 2006, he felt pressure to speed up an investigation involving local Democrats, and that he received phone calls from two Republican lawmakers who inquired on the status of the investigation. At the hearing, another former U.S. attorney also testified that he had received a call from a Republican congressman about an investigation. But, as Media Matters noted, prior to March 2, none of the broadcast networks' evening news programs -- ABC's World News, NBC's Nightly News, and the CBS Evening News -- had even mentioned the case. Since March 4, in addition to the congressional hearings, two congressional Republicans have admitted to contacting Iglesias about his investigation of Democratic politicians. But as of March 6, neither ABC's World News nor NBC's Nightly News has reported on the story. By contrast, the CBS Evening News has run two different reports on the attorneys' dismissals, on March 4 and on March 6.

As Media Matters noted (here and here), Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales claimed that each U.S. attorney had been fired for reasons related to their performance in their jobs. But, at a February 6 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty conceded that performance played no role in at least one case: the forced resignation of H.E. "Bud" Cummins III as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas to give the job to former Karl Rove aide J. Timothy Griffin. Moreover, a February 14 McClatchy Newspapers article reported that "at least five of [the U.S. attorneys] received positive job evaluations before they were ordered to step down."

Iglesias, formerly the U.S. attorney in New Mexico, has alleged that Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-NM) and Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-NM) "attempted to pressure him to speed up a probe of Democrats just before the November elections." Both have since acknowledged contacting Iglesias about his corruption investigations, as has been reported by a March 5 Washington Post article on Domenici's statement and a March 6 Post article on Wilson's comments. The advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has filed ethics complaints against both Domenici and Wilson, alleging that they are in violation of Senate and House ethics rules, respectively, against lawmakers communicating with prosecutors about investigations.

On March 6, both the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law and the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on the attorneys' dismissals. As The Washington Post reported, the witnesses "testified on Capitol Hill yesterday that they had separately been the target of complaints, improper telephone calls and thinly veiled threats from a high-ranking Justice Department official or members of Congress, both before and after they were abruptly removed from their jobs." According to the Post, John McKay, a former U.S. attorney in Washington state, "alleged for the first time that he received a call from the chief of staff to Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), asking about an inquiry into vote-fraud charges in the state's hotly contested 2004 gubernatorial election. McKay said he cut the call short." Cummins testified that "a senior Justice Department official warned him on Feb. 20 that the fired prosecutors should remain quiet about their dismissals" and made public an email that "cautioned that administration officials would 'pull their gloves off and offer public criticisms to defend their actions more fully.' " Further, as the Post reported, in his testimony Iglesias provided further details of Wilson's and Domenici's phone calls:

Iglesias testified that Wilson called him while he was visiting Washington on Oct. 16 to quiz him about an investigation of a state Democrat related to kickbacks in a courthouse construction project.

"What can you tell me about sealed indictments?" Iglesias said Wilson asked him.

Iglesias said "red flags" immediately went up in his mind because it was unethical for him to talk about an ongoing criminal investigation, particularly on the timing of indictments.

"I was evasive and unresponsive," he said of his conversation with Wilson. She became upset, Iglesias testified, and ended the conversation.

"Well, I guess I'll have to take your word for it," she said, according to Iglesias.

About 10 days later, Iglesias said, Domenici's chief of staff, Steve Bell, called Iglesias at his home in New Mexico and "indicated there were some complaints by constituents." Domenici then got on the phone for a conversation that lasted "one to two minutes," Iglesias recalled.

"Are these going to be filed before November?" Domenici asked, Iglesias testified, referring to the kickback case. Unnerved by the call, Iglesias said he responded that they were not.

"I'm sorry to hear that," Domenici replied, according to Iglesias, who added that the senator then hung up.

"I felt sick afterward," Iglesias said, acknowledging that he did not report the calls to Washington as required under Justice rules. "I felt leaned on. I felt pressured to get these matters moving."

Posted In
Government, Ethics
Network/Outlet
NBC, ABC
Show/Publication
ABC World News Tonight, NBC Nightly News
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