Kudos to CBS's Roberts for Picking Up Democrat Harman's Defense of Bush's “Spying”

Though Bob Schieffer introduced Wednesday's CBS Evening News by using loaded language as he pointed out how, “to protest the President's decision to continue spying on American citizens, a federal judge took the unprecedented step of resigning from the court that issues warrants in such cases,” an event also highlighted by ABC and NBC, unlike those networks, CBS White House correspondent John Roberts informed viewers how “the President got support today from an unusual quarter: Democrat Jane Harman, a key figure on the House Intelligence Committee.” He highlighted how she asserted that “I believe the program is essential to U.S. national security” and, in a slam at the leaker and the New York Times, that the “disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities.” Schieffer, however, remained most interested in the resignation. After Roberts wrapped up his story, Schieffer marveled to him: “I want to go back to this federal judge resigning. I must say in all my years in the news business, I've never heard of a federal judge resigning in protest over anything.”

ABC held its “eavesdropping” coverage to an anchor-read brief, but one devoted to the judge, while in a full story on the Patriot Act and Bush's “decision to order spying inside the U.S. without a warrant,” NBC's Kelly O'Donnell highlighted the resignation. (Transcript excerpts follow.)

(As of the time of this posting, Harman's Web site does not have the statement posted, nor do the press or minority pages for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, on which she is the ranking Democrat. And I can only find brief references to in online news services, such as a sentence in an AP story on Yahoo News.)

On the December 21 CBS Evening News, over matching text on screen from Harman's statement, Roberts relayed:

"The President got support today from an unusual quarter: Democrat Jane Harman, a key figure on the House Intelligence Committee. 'I believe the program is essential to U.S. national security,' she said in a statement, 'and that disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities.' But Harman added she's worried the spying goes beyond what she was briefed on. New concerns were raised today that the eavesdropping accidentally swept up purely domestic conversations. But the deputy National Intelligence director insists that 'One end of these communications are always outside the Unites States of America.'"...

Over on ABC's World News Tonight, anchor Elizabeth Vargas announced, over video of Robertson walking on a sidewalk:

“And one more item from Washington: There is more fallout over President Bush's program to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants. A federal judge has resigned from the court that oversees government surveillance and intelligence cases. James Robertson reportedly did so to protest the President's actions. The Washington Post says the judge is worried that the President's surveillance program is tainting the work of the court and may, in fact, be illegal.”

In a story on the NBC Nightly News pegged to the debate over the Patriot Act, Kelly O'Donnell interjected:

“But in the President's war on terror, defining the line between liberty and security is drawing new fire and new fallout over his decision to order spying inside the U.S. without a warrant. In protest, this federal judge, Judge James Robertson, has resigned from the special court known as FISA, set up to oversee government wiretaps. The White House vigorously defends the surveillance program, saying it's limited to al-Qaeda suspects and those associated with the group and had no comment on the judge's resignation.”

Scott McClellan: “I don't know the reason why the judge resigned from the FISA court. The FISA court's important one.”

O'Donnell: “Another FISA judge confirmed the resignation to NBC News, and says the remaining ten judges on the court plan to meet soon to discuss the once secret program.”

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center