Monday, December 26, 2005

Some In Media Didn't Buy RNC Spin About Bush's Domestic Surveillance Program

After President Bush admitted that he had authorized warrantless surveillance of overseas calls made by U.S. citizens and permanent residents, in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the Republican National Committee acted swiftly.

The RNC issued a Dec. 21 press release that falsely alleged that Presidents Carter and Clinton had done the same. To make the claim, the RNC used sentence fragments to take presidential executive orders out of context.

(It's possible that the RNC leaked the release to Rush Limbaugh, who seems to have quoted from it on his Dec. 20 show. Or maybe Rush's people tipped off the RNC as to how to spin things?) Regardless, the RNC spin quickly made the rounds among other "conservative media," helped by Matt Drudge's popular (but often fact-challenged) website. In the days that followed, other conservatives repeated the same spin (such as here, here, and here.)

It's hard to say how many reporters took the RNC spin seriously. References to the RNC's take on the Carter and Clinton executive orders was scant -- almost exclusively noted by conservative columnists, rather than reporters.

But what is obvious is that some in the mainstream media took a close look at the RNC's allegations, and compared them with the actual Carter and Clinton executive orders. They quickly realized the RNC was playing hard and fast with the facts, and (surprise, surprise) acted like journalists and stood up for the truth.

Getting the ball rolling was Andrea Mitchell -- normally a high-profile NBC News reporter -- who said this while guest hosting on the Dec. 21 edition of MSNBC's Hardball:

MITCHELL: The RNC sent out this press release saying, “Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter both authorized search/surveillance without court orders.” The RNC press release goes on to cite an executive order from President Clinton on February 9th, 1995 that says, “The attorney general is authorized to approve physical searches without a court order.” But that actually leaves out a crucial part of the sentence. So let‘s clean that up. The actual executive order from President Clinton reads, “The attorney general is authorized to approve physical searches without a court order if the attorney general makes the certifications required by that section.” And that section refers to a requirement that the attorney general certify that the search will not involve, “The premises, information, material, or property of a United States person.” In other words, U.S. citizens or anyone inside the United States. It‘s the same story about how the RNC is framing former president Jimmy Carter‘s executive order, which is taking it out of context.

The next day, the Washington Post offered a similar debunking of the RNC's misleading release:

The RNC quoted fragments of Clinton's Executive Order 12949, authorizing the attorney general to "approve physical searches, without a court order, to acquire foreign intelligence information," and Carter's Executive Order 12139, authorizing the attorney general to "approve electronic surveillance to acquire foreign intelligence information without a court order."

The Clinton and Carter orders, which were published, permitted warrantless spying only on foreigners who are not protected by the Constitution. Bush's secret directive permitted the NSA to eavesdrop on the overseas calls of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

The RNC's quotation of Clinton's order left out the stated requirement, in the same sentence, that a warrantless search not involve "the premises, information, material, or property of a United States person." Carter's order, also in the same sentence quoted, said warrantless eavesdropping could not include "any communication to which a United States person is a party."

And on Dec. 23, Bloomberg Business News columnist Ann Woolner noted the misleading release: "The old saying that truth is the first casualty in war goes a long way toward explaining e-mail that showed up this week from the Republican National Committee."


Back in September, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams said a long period of reticence by news organizations -- which he dubbed "the 9/11 syndrome" -- ended with Hurricane Katrina.

Maybe he was right.


Anonymous larissa said...

Wow... great job compiling that info Jabbs!!!

When our candidate wins in 2008, I hope you're hired as one of the presidential staff members in..

I dunno.. ...Investigative Reporter?... ... Speech Writer? ... Public Relations Chief?... Press Secretary?...

Somewhere.... you need to be in there somewhere!

2:40 AM  
Anonymous Skittles said...

good job JABBS

a very interesting light of the subject manner being discussed, I find the actions of the RNC to be quire despicable - absolute PROOF they put the welfare of their party above the welfare of their country

8:44 AM  
Blogger Andrew Tavani said...

I agree that the repetitive propaganda that Bush administration beats the American public over the head with is actually convincing people that he's a good guy.

I write Op-ed columns for Metro Newspaper in NY. Here's a link to my latest column:

Keep up the good work.

9:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With such info out there, one would conclude that the claim about Clinton and Carter has been officially defunked, and that no MSM source would ever again stenograph it again without a rebuttal.
I think I've been hitting too much of the Christmas eggnog.

10:51 AM  
Anonymous ash said...

"Possible" the RNC talking points worked their way to Limbo? That would be the same Limbo who is the #1 rightwing bs spinner?

Note to self: never read Wingnut columnist links again. Rather have simultaneous root canal at either end of my mouth.

4:34 PM  
Anonymous NI4NI said...

Omission is the same as a lie

A real professional reporter, or objective journalist should be deeply offended by the disrespect that the RNC and their shills show them by presuming that they are too stupid, too lazy, or too much in a hurry to fact check anything that is so easily available, even though there are plenty of pretend "reporters" and "journalists" that are and do not. The public has a right to be factually informed and that an omission of fact to deceive is nothing more than a gall-dam lie which the media has a duty to expose.

12:27 AM  

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