CBS and NBC Spike Panetta's Rejection of Pelosi's Smear of the CIA

May 15th, 2009 9:21 PM
After ignoring for three weeks House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's denial she was briefed by the CIA about how water-boarding was being used, only to decide it was news on Thursday when Pelosi at a press conference accused the CIA of “lying” and of “misleading” the Congress, on Friday the CBS and NBC evening newscasts fell silent again despite the backlash from CIA Director Leon Panetta, a former Democratic Congressman. He issued an emphatic statement about how “it is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress” and declaring: “CIA officers briefed truthfully on the interrogation of Abu Zubaida, describing the 'enhanced techniques that had been employed.'”

That was enough of a news hook for ABC's World News to make it the Friday night lead, as fill-in anchor George Stephanopoulos teased his top story: “Tonight, firing back: The CIA Director toe-to-toe with the Speaker. He says Congress was told the truth about interrogations.” Reporter Jonathan Karl recounted how Panetta is “pushing back hard against the Speaker of the House” and that Republicans are raising her hypocrisy in advocating punishment for those who authorized a technique of which she was aware.

He concluded by undermining her latest spin of claiming she was misled by Bush administration political operatives.

“Speaker Pelosi is now doing some damage control,” Karl reported, reading her assertion: “My criticism of the manner of which the Bush administration did not appropriately inform Congress is separate from my respect for those in the intelligence community who work to keep our country safe.” But, Karl noted: “It is important to point out that those who briefed Speaker Pelosi at that September [2002] briefing were career intelligence officers, these were not political operatives from the Bush administration.”

Yet not even that mendacious blame-shifting prompted a syllable from CBS or NBC. It's a pretty sad state of affairs when the newscast anchored by a former Democratic political operative is the one willing to highlight news deleterious to a top liberal Democrat.

With Jeff Glor in the anchor seat on Thursday, CBS, like ABC and NBC, aired full stories on Pelosi's accusations against the CIA. (For a rundown of Thursday night and Friday morning Pelosi coverage by ABC, CBS and NBC, check the earlier NB post by Rich Noyes: “After Three Weeks, Pelosi's Anti-CIA Rant Pushes Nets to Action.”)

Katie Couric was back in the anchor chair on Friday, however, and the newscast skipped Pelosi's evolving explanations about what she knew when and Panetta's rejoinder. The CBS Evening News led with GM's dealer closings and devoted nearly four minutes to Couric previewing/plugging her upcoming Sunday 60 Minutes segment with Secretary of Defense Bill Gates and spent two minutes on how the favorite in Saturday's Preakness is a female -- and that was all before the closing story on the proper pronunciation and spelling of Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg in Webster, Massachusetts.

The Lester Holt-anchored NBC Nightly News, which had transmission problems in its 7 PM EDT feed so 10-20 second chunks of it did not air in Washington, DC (but I saw no hint of anything about Pelosi), did run an unusual story on the plight of Christians in Iraq, but also allocated two minutes to plugging a prime time documentary on the dying Farrah Fawcett and, like CBS, featured a full piece on the Preakness. Also, matching CBS, NBC began with GM.