CBS Evening News, But Not Web Site, Picks Up on Majority Backing of Eavesdropping

Despite the decision by the editors of CBSNews.com not to highlight the finding in a new CBS News/New York Times poll, of how 61 percent believe President Bush authorized wiretaps in order to “fight terrorism,” with just 29 percent saying he did it just to “expand the powers of the presidency,” on Thursday's CBS Evening News John Roberts alerted viewers to the finding. Roberts relayed: “On the NSA spying program, President Bush went into today's press conference with a boost. A new CBS News/New York Times poll found 61 percent of Americans believe the eavesdropping is meant to fight terror and the majority support that [53 percent back Bush authorizing wiretaps]." When Roberts ended his piece, anchor Bob Schieffer marveled at how “it looks to me as if the President has decided to make this a political issue to show that he is strong in the fight against terrorism and perhaps the Democrats are weak. And I must say, looking at that poll, he may be succeeding."

Just as the CBS Evening News went on the air in the East, CBSNews.com posted a rundown of the survey, “Poll: Bush's Approval Remains Low.” But it did not include any mention (and still does not as of 11pm EST) of the public backing for Bush on what the media have portrayed as scandalous illegality. Instead, the home page posting highlighted the findings on Bush's approval rating, the administration's plans for Katrina victims, the Iraq war, the Jack Abramoff case, rating of Congress and the condition of the health care system. An accompanying PDF of the complete poll results, “The Bush Presidency and the State of the Union: January 20-25, 2006,” included the NSA eavesdropping findings. (Partial transcript follows.)

Joining, in progress, Roberts' January 26 story on the Bush press conference, as he arrived at the poll numbers which were displayed on screen:
Roberts: “On the NSA spying program, President Bush went into today's press conference with a boost. A new CBS News/New York Times poll found 61 percent of Americans believe the eavesdropping is meant to fight terror [compared to 29 percent who said “expand presidential power”] and the majority support that [53 percent back Bush authorizing wiretaps]. The President insisted again today he's on solid legal ground and was skeptical about increasing talk in Congress to write new laws covering the program.”

President Bush, at his morning press conference: “If the attempt to write law makes this program, is likely to expose the nature of the program, I'll resist it. Why tell the enemy what we're doing? If the program is necessary to protect us from the enemy.”

Roberts: “Even if Congress were to write new laws, the larger question is, would President Bush feel obligated to conduct the eavesdropping only under those rules? From a legal standpoint not likely. But the Congress gives him everything he needs, political pressures may dictate that he has to. Bob?”

Schieffer: “You know John, it looks to me as if the President has decided to make this a political issue to show that he is strong in the fight against terrorism and perhaps the Democrats are weak. And I must say, looking at that poll, he may be succeeding.”

Roberts: “A political issue and a national security issue which history would show the President does very well on. You take a look at that poll, the majority of Americans think if it's directed at terrorism it's the right thing to do, Bob.”
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center