All three major broadcast networks this evening covered President Bush’s speech in Kansas today concerning the domestic spying program. They all included the same quote of the president saying, “If I wanted to break the law, why was I briefing Congress?” And, they all referenced statements made today at the National Press Club by Deputy Director of National Intelligence and former National Security Agency director Gen. Michael Hayden. Unfortunately, none of them did justice to the extraordinarily compelling description of the NSA eavesdropping program offered by the general, or his explanation of errors and omissions that have been quite common in media reports on this issue.
Regardless, what was conspicuously absent from the “NBC Nightly News” report on this subject was the most compelling statement made today by Gen. Hayden: “Had this program been in effect prior to 9/11, it is my professional judgment that we would have detected some of the al Qaeda operatives in the United States, and we would have identified them as such.”
To be sure, it couldn’t have been a time issue that prevented NBC from including this key segment of Gen. Hayden’s statement. After all, toward the end of the broadcast, Brian Williams had plenty of time to discuss the person in the Kansas State University audience who asked President Bush if he had seen the movie “Brokeback Mountain,” as well as show footage of the president’s answer (from closed captioning): “I hadn't seen it. I would be glad to talk about ranching but I haven't seen the movie.” In fact, there was even time for Williams to speak glowingly about the film (also from closed captioning):
“And so we can take from that the president hasn't seen the film, but millions of other Americans have. ‘Brokeback Mountain’ has been on the top 10 list at the box office for seven weeks in a row now. It won four Golden Globes, and is considered a strong contender at the upcoming Academy Awards.”
I guess the producers felt this was more important than informing Americans that the Deputy Director of National Intelligence and former director of the NSA believes that the current domestic spying program might have detected some of the terrorists responsible for 9/11 if it had existed back then.
What follows is a full transcript of the domestic spying segment, a video link, and a closed captioning transcript of the “Brokeback Mountain” sequence. Also, for those that are interested, here is the full text of Gen. Hayden's speech.
Brian Williams: President Bush today was in Kansas, kicking off a series of speeches and events aimed at aggressively defending the N.S.A.'S domestic spying program. As NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory reports tonight, the president actually hopes to turn the controversy into a political plus.
Gregory: The president today speaking to college students in Kansas, trying to answer critics who charge him with abusing his power by authorizing wiretaps on Americans without warrants.
Bush: If I wanted to break the law, why was I briefing Congress? (audience laughter)
Gregory: Mr. Bush is leading an administration-wide effort to win support for the controversial spying program ahead of congressional hearings on the topic next month. In an unusual step, today the former head of the ultra secret National Security Agency defended the narrow scope of the program.
Gen. Michael Hayden: This is hot pursuit of communications entering or leaving America involving someone we believe is associated with al Qaeda.
Gregory: Why the P.R. Blitz now? It's clear next month's hearings on the spying program, right after the state of the union address, threaten to divert attention from the president's agenda for the year. And politically, what began as bad press has emerged as a potential advantage, giving the White House new ammunition against democrats.
Karl Rove: Republicans have a post-9/11 view of the world and democrats have a pre-9/11 view of the world.
Gregory: What that argument ignores is that even prominent Republicans like Senator John McCain have questioned the spying program.
Chris Wallace: But you do not believe that currently he has the legal authority to engage in these warrantless wiretaps.
John McCain: You know, I don't think so.
Gregory: Democrats insist it was possible for the president to both spy on suspected terrorists and do it legally.
Russ Feingold: What the White House did, what the president did is just go ahead and make up his own law here without the authority of the United States government.
Gregory: A debate still raging about how to fight the war on terror. David Gregory, NBC News, New York.
Williams: And today, the president weighed in on a movie that has become a kind of cultural marker of late in this country. It is “Brokeback Mountain," a love story between two male cowboys. And today, at that speech in Kansas, the president was asked whether or not he had seen it.
Bush: I hadn't seen it. I would be glad to talk about ranching but I haven't seen the movie. I've heard about it. I hope you go -- you know --
Bush: I hope you go back to the ranch in the farms that was what I was about to say. I hadn't seen it.
Williams: And so we can take from that the president hasn't seen the film, but millions of other Americans have. "Brokeback Mountain” has been on the top 10 list at the box office for seven weeks in a row now. It won four Golden Globes, and is considered a strong contender at the upcoming Academy Awards.