Without identifying David Cole as the “legal affairs correspondent” for the far-left magazine The Nation, Friday’s World News Tonight on ABC featured his denigration of the probe into who leaked the secret eavesdropping story to the New York Times and his expert declaration that “the President of the United States violated a clear criminal prohibition on warrantless wiretapping.” Reporter Pierre Thomas described Cole as a “constitutional scholar” and the on-screen graphic read: "Prof Georgetown Univ Law School." Cole’s latest piece for The Nation calls Bush an “Emperor.” Thomas did balance Cole with former federal prosecutor David Schertler, but the former homicide prosecutor has no equivalent ties to right-wing politics and did not make a declaration about which side of the dispute is correct.
Substitute anchor Claire Shipman set up the story by mis-characterizing the surveillance of international contacts with those linked to terrorists: "Now to the administration's secret eavesdropping program in which the government monitors domestic conversations without a warrant.” Thomas highlighted how “some constitutional scholars say the NSA spying is illegal and that the New York Times article disclosing it is a public service. They say this investigation is retribution." Cole argued: “On the face of it, there were two crimes committed here. One, a leak by a government official, something that happens almost every day in Washington. The other, the President of the United States violated a clear criminal prohibition on warrantless wiretapping. Yet which one is being investigated?" (More from Cole in The Nation, as well as a full transcript of the ABC story, follows.)
“The Emperor's Powers” is the headline over Cole’s latest piece for The Nation. The summary of the story, which is available online only to subscribers, on the magazine’s Web page for him: “The Bush Administration believes it can ignore the rule of law -- in pursuit of torture, Pentagon surveillance of antiwar groups and now, domestic spying. We must continue to insist that in a democracy, the rule of law cannot be ignored.”
The December 30 World News Tonight story in full, as corrected against the closed-captioning by the MRC’s Brad Wilmouth:
Claire Shipman: "Now to the administration's secret eavesdropping program in which the government monitors domestic conversations without a warrant. Today, the Justice Department launched a leak investigation to find out who in the government was responsible for leaking details of the program to the New York Times. Here's ABC's Pierre Thomas."
Pierre Thomas: "A visibly angry President Bush has all but campaigned for a leak investigation into who revealed the NSA's secret program to the New York Times."
George W. Bush, at December 19 press conference: "It was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in time of war."
Thomas: "Administration officials say the program, which allows the government to eavesdrop on people in the U.S. without a court order, has prevented acts of terrorism. Sources tell ABC News the NSA sent a letter to the Justice Department explaining how the leak had damaged national security."
David Schertler, former federal prosecutor: "The Department of Justice would take a leak of that kind of information, which could be detrimental to the security interests of the United States, very seriously."
Thomas, with matching text of his points on screen: “Some constitutional scholars say the NSA spying is illegal and that the New York Times article disclosing it is a public service. They say this investigation is retribution." [This portion of the story, as aired at 6:30pm EST, had an audio/video jump so the word “some” did not air, but the closed captioning had the word “some” as Thomas’ first word and that word makes sense.]
David Cole, identified on screen as “Prof Georgetown Univ Law School,”asserted: "On the face of it, there were two crimes committed here. One, a leak by a government official, something that happens almost every day in Washington. The other, the President of the United States violated a clear criminal prohibition on warrantless wiretapping. Yet which one is being investigated?"
Thomas, from in front of the Justice Department building: "The investigation sets the stage for another constitutional showdown between the rights of the press and the need to protect national security. A former federal prosecutor says New York Times reporters and editors should be expecting subpoenas and more."
Schertler: "The New York Times reporters, if they refuse to testify and identify their sources, face going to prison for contempt of court.”
Thomas: "Tonight, officials at the New York Times are declining to comment. They know an intense legal fight is coming. Pierre Thomas, ABC News, Washington."