Networks Distort Overseas Terrorist Surveillance Into 'Domestic Spying' of 'Americans'

The announcement Wednesday from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) would now approve of surveillance actions under the “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” prompted a return to the bad network habit of describing as “domestic spying” and “domestic eavesdropping” the effort to monitor communication between people inside the United States and suspected terrorists abroad. With “Domestic Spying” on screen, ABC World News anchor Charles Gibson cited “a major reversal today by the Bush administration in the war on terrorism. Two years ago, you may recall, the administration maintained it had the right to spy on people in the United States, without court approval. Today, however, the Justice Department said there will be no such surveillance of people in this country without court approval.” (A look at CBS and NBC follows)

The January 17 CBS Evening News put “Domestic Eavesdropping” on screen as anchor Katie Couric suggested President Bush had dropped the program, not just brought it under court supervision, as she very misleadingly referred to eavesdropping on “Americans” when it could be anyone inside the United States: “In the war on terror here at home, a surprising development today. President Bush is giving up what he's long insisted is a key weapon, his program of eavesdropping without a court order on the phone calls and e-mails of Americans suspected of communicating with terrorists.” Jim Axelrod had to correct her and point out how the program continues: “We should make the point Katie, about this about-face, that the eavesdropping won't stop at all. It's just that the requests will have to now be monitored by a judge.”

The NBC Nightly News avoided the loaded and inaccurate on screen graphic, going with the more generic "Electronic Surveillance," but anchor Brian Williams contended the program targeted “U.S. citizens” when it really deals with anyone within the borders of the United States communicating with a terrorist outside the borders: "Tonight the Bush administration has reversed itself on one of the most controversial pieces of the President's anti-terror program. It involved listening in on the phone calls of U.S. citizens without a warrant."

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