ABC's World News on Wednesday and Good Morning America on Thursday offered confusing, incomplete and brief explanations for why Rand Paul filibustered John Brennan, Barack Obama's Central Intelligence Agency nominee. According to GMA news reader Josh Elliott, "Paul was protesting the Obama administration's use of drone strikes against Americans." [Video of the terse explanations can be found below.]
World News anchor Diane Sawyer insisted the "Tea party firebrand" was opposing "the use of drones against U.S. citizens." This is hardly a full explanation for ABC's viewers. On the Today show, Chuck Todd produced a more accurate description: "[Paul] decided to filibuster the confirmation of CIA director John Brennan in an attempt to get the White House to once and for all promise to never target Americans with drones on U.S. soil." The "on U.S. soil" part is key. ABC allowed only news briefs on the filibuster. CBS and NBC offered full reports.
Today used actual quotes which allowed the senator to justify his position: "The President should very frankly answer the question, 'I will not kill non-combatants in America.'" Todd also explained that other senators came to his aid, including a Democrat, Ron Wyden of Oregon.
On CBS This Morning, Norah O'Donnell seemed impressed, noting that the Republican went "old school" with the filibuster. She also informed viewers that "Paul's real target was the potential use of drones against U.S. citizens on American soil." Nancy Cordes added details:
NANCY CORDES: Paul's stand began Wednesday morning in response to a letter he received from Attorney General Eric Holder. Paul had asked Holder if he felt the U.S. would use drone strikes to attack Americans on U.S. soil. 'It is possible, I suppose', Holder wrote in response, 'to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate.' Holder cited 9/11 and the attack on Pearl Harbor as examples of extraordinary circumstances, but Paul argued drone strikes are different, because they deny a citizen's right to due process.
In contrast, Wednesday's CBS Evening News skipped the story entirely. On the NBC Nightly News, Kelly O'Donnell pointed out: "It's about pressuring the President to answer a question: Does the administration believe it has the legal authority to use deadly drone strikes inside the U.S. against an American."
Real Senate filibusters are rare and, one would think, worthy of news coverage. NBC and CBS managed to do full reports and accurately explain Paul's concern. Not only did ABC minimize coverage, but the network also got the story partially wrong.
A transcript of the World News and GMA briefs can be found below:
DIANE SAWYER: And now we head off to Washington, and you're looking live at a scene that reminds you of the movie Mr. Smith goes to Washington, because it's an old fashioned filibuster. Tea Party firebrand, Senator Rand Paul, talking and talking and talking on the floor of the Senate. He started late this morning, just before noon. And he is opposing the nomination of John Brennan to be head of the CIA and the use of drones against U.S. citizens. He vows to keep speaking until he can no longer speak.
JOSH ELLIOTT: We're going to begin with that epic filibuster right out of, well, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Well, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and led by Tea Party favorite Rand Paul. Overnight, after nearly 13 hours, the Republican senator from Kentucky finally ended his long, long talk aimed at delaying John Brennan's confirmation as CIA director. Now, Paul was protesting the Obama administration's use of drone strikes against Americans. Though talking for 13 hours, as you might imagine, is not easy. At one point, the Senator grabbed a candy bar for nourishment. You see him here and continued to speak with his mouth full.