Both NBC and CBS led their Thursday morning shows with news that the Obama administration has secretly obtained the phone records of millions of Americans, but ABC's Good Morning America started its show reporting on Tropical Storm Andrea in Florida instead.
Overall, Thursday's two hour-long GMA spent less than three minutes total on the phone tracking story, giving over five times more coverage to the attempted suicide of Michael Jackson's daughter Paris. Back in 2006, however, ABC showed far more scrutiny to a similar story of the Bush administration tracking phone calls.
When news broke in May of 2006 of the Bush administration secretly getting U.S. phone records, the May 11th GMA led with the story and ran two lead segments, and added a third report in the second hour of the show. Anchor Diane Sawyer touted the "bombshell" and "seismic" news and harped on how the phone tracking would personally affect GMA's viewers.
"What are the odds that every person watching this show this morning has had the records of their phone calls turned over to the government?" Sawyer asked USA Today reporter Leslie Cauley. Sawyer also challenged the legality of the tracking: "Is it legal because aren't there laws on the books preventing the disclosure of any of this private information?"
Thursday's GMA was more subdued, refraining from asking questions of legality and hyping the personal consequences of the Obama administration's surveillance. The show simply provided statements from both the administration and opponents of the policy, while still hailing the news as "stunning."
"[T]he White House may be defending it right now but there's already been a bipartisan outcry," noted co-host George Stephanopoulos.
Below is a transcript of the segments that aired on Good Morning America on May 6:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Now to that stunning report that the National Security Agency has been collecting phone records from millions of Americans under a top secret court order. The Guardian broke the story and ABC's chief White House correspondent Jon Karl has been tracking it through the night. And Jon, this is a blanket order. Every Verizon call, both phone numbers, time and length.
JONATHAN KARL, ABC News chief White House correspondent: That's right, George. This top secret order which was obtained by The Guardian was requested by the FBI on April 25th. That's just ten days after the Boston Marathon bombing and it covers the phone records of millions of Americans. And while the White House is not directly confirming this story, they are defending this massive collection of data that it describes, a senior White House official telling me just a short while ago, quote, "information of the sort described in the Guardian article has been a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States as it allows counterterrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged terrorist activities, particularly in the United States."
Now this official makes two other points, George. First of all, this order does not allow the government to listen in to those phone calls, only to look at their duration, their length and who is calling who. And the second point they make is that key members of Congress were aware of this.
STEPHANOPOULOS: They may be and the White House may be defending it right now but there's already been a bipartisan outcry.
KARL: That's right. First of all, you have civil liberty groups completely outraged by this. The ACLU calling it a massive invasion of privacy. And Al Gore, former Vice President Al Gore, look what he tweeted last night after this story broke. "In a digital era, privacy must be a priority. Is it just me or is secret blanket surveillance obscenely outrageous?" So very strong words of objections coming from the former Democratic Vice President Al Gore.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure, and I don't think he's going to be alone. Okay Jon, thanks very much.
JOSH ELLIOT: We're going to begin with an explosive new report. The government collecting the phone records of 100 million Americans. They are all Verizon customers, and the British newspaper The Guardian says those records are being seized by the National Security Agency under a secret court order granted in mid-April. No word why, but that was just after the Boston Marathon bombing. Now although the calls aren't being listened to, the ACLU calls it a massive invasion of privacy. While not confirming the seizure of records, an Obama administration official this morning called the phone records, and I quote, "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats." End quote.