MSNBC Anchor Tries, Fails to Get Guests to Blame Bush For NSA Snooping Under Obama

MSNBC anchor Alex Witt took it upon herself to defend President Obama’s reputation on Saturday’s Weekends with Alex Witt. To do so, she employed a favorite liberal tactic: blame George W. Bush for what goes wrong in the Obama administration.

Witt was chatting with David Nakamura of The Washington Post about the NSA’s secret surveillance programs that have recently come to light. It’s a topic that is sure to anger many Americans, so Witt made sure to deflect blame away from Obama and onto his predecessor:


"David, are you getting any frustration from inside the White House because the Obama administration didn't start this program. It started under President Bush, but now that it's been leaked, this White House has to answer all the questions."

 

Following this line of thinking, Witt must also wonder if Obama is frustrated with President Woodrow Wilson, who signed into law legislation that created the IRS. So Wilson is indirectly responsible for the current IRS controversy, is he not?

While we’re at it, is President Obama upset that he has had to defend the actions of the Justice Department, which was created in 1870 under Ulysses S. Grant’s administration? Surely President Lyndon Johnson will be to blame when Medicare becomes insolvent or FDR when Social Security defaults, right?

Almost every federal program was created before Barack Obama arrived in the White House. When a president takes office, he assumes responsibility for all of the programs and departments he inherits from his predecessors. To not do so would be careless. Obama could abolish this secret surveillance program if he wanted to, but he has likely come to realize its usefulness in fighting terrorism.

Responding to Witt’s question, Nakamura pointed out that Obama has not kept his campaign promise to run a more open and transparent government. He did not say there was any White House frustration over the origins of the surveillance program. Apparently unsatisfied with Nakamura’s lack of answer to her silly question, Witt raised the issue again later in the show, during a discussion with MSNBC analyst Perry Bacon Jr. and Lauren Fox of U.S. News and World Report:
 

"And so Perry, with regard to the frustration within the White House, which I imagine must be there, I mean, Lauren makes a good point. These were programs started underneath the Bush administration, but now it's the Obama administration that has to defend them publicly."
 

Fox had only made a passing reference to the fact that the programs began under Bush. Her larger point was the same as Nakamura’s: that Obama has not defended civil liberties as he promised to do when he was a senator. But Witt seized on that one mention of Bush to again try and pass blame onto the forty-third president.

However, Bacon didn’t address Witt’s concern, either. He rambled on about how he didn’t think Obama was surprised by criticisms of the secret surveillance programs. So Witt returned to the same talking point yet again during a chat with Democratic strategist Morris Reid near the end of her show:
 

"So Morris, these are programs that the president inherited from President Bush. Should he be getting this much heat from his own party?"
 

Reid, like the good Democrat he is, responded that the president has the responsibility to protect the country, so therefore he is okay with Obama breaking his campaign promise to be more open and transparent. His answer left Witt 0-for-3 in trying to get her guests to blame President Bush for starting the NSA surveillance program. And none of those guests were conservatives, either. How embarrassing.

Below is a transcript of the relevant segments:

ALEX WITT: David, are you getting any frustration from inside the White House because the Obama administration didn't start this program. It started under President Bush, but now that it's been leaked, this White House has to answer all the questions.

DAVID NAKAMURA: It's a very interesting situation because, as I said, the president made a big case when he was running for the presidency, he really struck a hard line against some of this -- he said the government needs to be more open, more accountable, needs to be more transparent. He's come under a lot of criticism lately, not just with these revelations, but with the program the Justice Department was running to investigate leaks with the Associated Press, that, you know, his government has not done what he said and promised in his campaign to do which is to create a more open and transparent accountability system. But the president made a case yesterday that, hey, we have set specific ground rules with this program. We're not listening to your conversations. I think others would say, though, that these kind of surveillance programs can give a lot of information without even listening to conversations. So I think the president again is going to have to make the case more strongly as it goes forward, especially if some in Congress will start to sort of push back on this.

***



LAUREN FOX: This is one of those tricky things. There are a lot of liberals who got behind the president when he was Senator Obama and said, this guy is going to protect privacy and he's going to be able to balance this in a better way than President Bush was, but what we've seen here is some people are disappointed. They're saying, we voted for you and you basically, even though these programs were created under the Bush administration, you have strengthened in some ways and carried out these programs that were created.

ALEX WITT: And so Perry, with regard to the frustration within the White House, which I imagine must be there, I mean, Lauren makes a good point. These were programs started underneath the Bush administration, but now it's the Obama administration that has to defend them publicly.

PERRY BACON JR: I don't think the president is surprised by these criticisms. I think if you listen to him yesterday, he did not – he was not surprised that some people like Ron Wyden who have been concerned about the drone program, concerned about other civil liberty issues as well. This criticism is not surprising. I think that the White House was upset these stories emerged. You saw the president yesterday talk about how he didn't like the leaks coming out again. But this controversy is not new in the sense that we have sort of a core group of some Republicans like Rand Paul and a bunch of Democrats like Ron Wyden, like John Conyers who are very wary of a growing national security state and you have this fight almost between the executive and some parts of the legislature that have – that has crossed both the Bush and the Obama presidencies.

***

ALEX WITT: So Morris, these are programs that the president inherited from President Bush. Should he be getting this much heat from his own party?

MORRIS REID: Well, the senator has a very different job than the president of the United States who is the commander in chief. His chief responsibility is to make sure that America does no harm and we're protected. So I think that these guys have to understand when you run for office, there's a position that you take, but when you're in office and you are, you know, running the country, there’s different tactics you have to take on. I happen to be very supportive of what the president is doing here. I think that it's important that we double down and make sure that the country is safe. We can't have a flourishing economy, we can’t have a great economy if we're not safe first. So I think that what they're doing is the right way of handling it. Whether some of these liberals and some of the critics maybe on the Right may not believe, but I believe the president is handling it the correct way.

Paul Bremmer
Paul Bremmer is a Media Research Center News Analysis Division intern.