On Thursday, all three network evening newscasts covered the ruling by a federal judge against the Bush administration's controversial NSA spying program that involves warrantless monitoring of international phone calls when one participant is a terrorist suspect. Stemming from a case filed by the ACLU and other plaintiffs, Judge Ann Diggs Taylor, a Carter appointee, found the program to be unconstitutional. Unlike CNN and FNC, which conveyed that the ruling would likely be overturned, none of the network evening newscasts mentioned the liberal credentials of Judge Taylor or the debate over judicial activism and legal weaknesses in the ruling, such as the issue of whether the plaintiffs had standing to file the lawsuit, since the plaintiffs themselves were not found to be the subjects of surveillance. (Transcripts follow)
On ABC's World News with Charles Gibson, Gibson inroduced the story of the "major legal defeat" for the Bush administration, and correspondent Martha Raddatz filed a full report on the ruling in which she described the ruling as a "significant blow" to the administration, showing a sound bite of plaintiff James Bamford arguing that the ruling means the President "isn't a king." While she did at least provide some balance by relaying that "many national security experts" argue the program is essential, followed by a supporting sound bite of James Garafano of the Heritage Foundation, Raddatz did not delve into any legal weaknesses of the ruling itself.
The CBS Evening News and the NBC Nightly News only ran anchor-read stories, during which CBS's Bob Schieffer, uniquely among the networks, pointed out that those subjected to surveillance were "suspected of having ties to terrorists." And while ABC's Gibson did at least mention that the surveillance involved "overseas phone calls from this country," NBC's Campbell Brown did not even mention the international nature of the calls, while the words "Domestic Surveillance" displayed on the screen next to her. Brown relayed that Judge Taylor "harshly condemned" the program.
By contrast, as documented by the MRC's Megan McCormack, on CNN's The Situation Room, legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin conveyed that "this was a very liberal judge" who "almost exclusively cites other liberal judges." Toobin informed viewers that the case was likely to be overturned as he was "certain that other courts will see this differently."
On FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume, correspondent Bret Baier mentioned that Judge Taylor was a Carter appointee, and the show also gave attention to the debate over whether the plaintiffs in the case had standing to file their lawsuit. During the Fox All Stars segment, Fortune Magazine's Nina Easton talked about feedback she had received that the "legal reasoning on it was thin," and addressed the issue of standing: "And this question of the standing of these folks you're talking about, the scholars and the journalists and so on, and whether they actually had standing to bring this suit, well, she [Judge Taylor] wrestled with some of those questions, but then she dismissed the other concerns, saying, well, if they don't have standing, then who's going to keep the President, who's going to keep the President, hold his feet to the fire and who's going to let courts come in and hold him accountable? It's like, well, I gotta give them standing, and so I thought that was extremely telling."
Below are complete transcripts of the stories that ran on the August 17 ABC's World News with Charles Gibson, the CBS Evening News, and the NBC Nightly News, along with relevant portions of CNN's The Situation Room and FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume:
From ABC's World News with Charles Gibson:
Charles Gibson, in opening teaser: "Wiretap case: A federal judge tells the Bush administration one of its main terror-fighting tools violates the Constitution."
Gibson: "The Bush administration suffered a major legal defeat today. A federal judge declared its surveillance program of overseas phone calls from this country, conducted without warrants, to be unconstitutional. The President has called the program a crucial tool in the war on terror. We turn to ABC's chief White House correspondent, Martha Raddatz."
Martha Raddatz: "The wiretap ruling came with stinging criticism from U.S. District Court Judge Ann Diggs Taylor. 'It was never the intent of the Framers to give the President such unfettered control,' said the judge, 'particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights.' Judge Taylor said the administration's failure to obtain warrants for the eavesdropping program violated both the right to privacy and free speech."
James Bamford, Plaintiff: "What it says is the President of the United States isn't a king. He's just like every other citizen when it comes to a law."
Raddatz: "The White House response to the ruling: 'We couldn't disagree more.' And the Justice Department immediately appealed the decision."
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Justice Department: "We have confidence in the lawfulness of this program, and that's why the appeal has been lodged. This is an important program."
Raddatz: "This is a significant blow to the Bush administration, which has strongly defended the legality and the necessity of the program since its disclosure last December."
George W. Bush: "I believe what I'm doing is constitutional, and I know it's necessary."
Dick Cheney, dated July 10: "I can tell you the terrorist surveillance program has been absolutely essential."
Raddatz: "And there are many national security experts who agree that the program is essential."
James Garafano, Heritage Foundation: "We just saw a plot broken up. People planned to kill thousands of people. You cannot argue that there's not a serious problem out there. You cannot argue that programs like this don't help."
Raddatz: "Despite the ruling, the spying program will continue, Charlie, until the appeal has been heard. But that could take some time."
From the CBS Evening News:
Bob Schieffer: "A federal judge today also struck down President Bush's domestic eavesdropping program. The National Security Agency has, of course, been monitoring without warrants the international phone calls and emails of Americans suspected of having ties to terrorists. The judge in Detroit said this is a civil rights violation. The administration disagrees, of course, and is appealing."
From the NBC Nightly News:
Campbell Brown: "And now to the Bush administration's controversial warrantless wiretapping program. A federal judge ruled today that the program is unconstitutional. Judge Anna Diggs Taylor harshly condemned the program saying it violates the First and Fourth Amendments, as well as the 1978 FISA law. The White House said today the administration couldn't disagree more with Taylor's ruling. For now, the program will continue while the ruling is appealed."
From CNN's The Situation Room:
Jeffrey Toobin: "This judge, today's opinion, said it was unconstitutional in very scathing terms. But this was a very liberal judge. You look at the–the sources she cites in her opinion, she almost exclusively cites other liberal judges. I am virtually certain that other courts will see this differently, and the only way to resolve those sorts of differences is to have it wind up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court."
From FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume:
Nina Easton, Fortune Magazine: "Well, the feedback I got today was that this is going to be overturned by the Sixth Circuit, and I thought your legal analyst you had on earlier was remarkably measured. I got, some of the feedback I got was that this was overtly ideological, that the legal reasoning on it was thin. And this question of the standing of these folks you're talking about, the scholars and the journalists and so on, and whether they actually had standing to bring this suit, well, she wrestled with some of those questions, but then she dismissed the other concerns, saying, well, if they don't have standing, then who's going to keep the President, who's going to keep the President, hold his feet to the fire and who's going to let courts come in and hold him accountable? It's like, well, I gotta give them standing, and so I thought that was extremely telling. And the opinion very much did read, she is, she's a liberal Democrat, and it did read like an opinion by somebody who had, was very happy to overturn a program that she really didn't like. I mean, there was, you really didn't see any kind of struggle in the reasoning or anything. It was, you know, as a lot of legal scholars thought, thin."