Liberal Ruling Reversed; Year Ago, Media Celebrated 'Major Defeat' for Bush

A federal appeals court today overturned a Carter-appointed judge's opinion last August that the National Security Agency's terrorist surveillance program, dubbed by opponents as "domestic spying," was unconstitutional. Eleven months ago, the media latched on to the decision as a "major legal defeat" for the Bush administration, with CNN's Jack Cafferty crowing about how the decision proved "President Bush violated his oath of office, among other things, when he swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States."

Both ABC and MSNBC hosted constitutional lawyer Jonathan Turley, who suggested the President should be impeached as a result of the ruling.

Friday's decision stated that those who sued the government, including the ACLU, could not show that they had been targeted by the surveillance and thus had no standing to bring a federal case. As the Associated Press reported this afternoon:

A federal appeals court on Friday ordered the dismissal of a lawsuit challenging President Bush's domestic spying program, saying the plaintiffs had no standing to sue.

The 2-1 ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel vacated a 2006 order by a lower court in Detroit, which had found the post-Sept. 11 warrantless surveillance aimed at uncovering terrorist activity to be unconstitutional, violating rights to privacy and free speech and the separation of powers….

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said, "We have always believed that the District Court's decision declaring the terrorist surveillance program unconstitutional was wrongly decided."

The ACLU is reviewing its options, including taking its challenge to the Supreme Court, Shapiro said.

It remains to be seen how the networks cover today’s reversal of the lower court ruling, but here's how the big media reacted back on August 17, 2006, as chronicled in a variety of NewsBuster blog postings:

# On ABC's World News with Charles Gibson, Gibson introduced the story of the "major legal defeat" for the Bush administration, and correspondent Martha Raddatz filed a full report on the ruling in which she described the ruling as a "significant blow" to the administration, showing a soundbite of plaintiff James Bamford arguing that the ruling means the President "isn't a king." While she did at least provide some balance by relaying that "many national security experts" argue the program is essential, followed by a supporting soundbite from James Garafano of the Heritage Foundation, Raddatz did not delve into any legal weaknesses of the ruling itself.

# The CBS Evening News and the NBC Nightly News only ran anchor-read stories, during which CBS's Bob Schieffer, uniquely among the networks, pointed out that those subjected to surveillance were "suspected of having ties to terrorists." And while ABC's Gibson did at least mention that the surveillance involved "overseas phone calls from this country," NBC's Campbell Brown did not even mention the international nature of the calls, while the words "Domestic Surveillance" were displayed on the screen next to her. Brown relayed that Judge Taylor "harshly condemned" the program.

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# During the 4pm EDT hour of the August 17, 2006 Situation Room on CNN, Jack Cafferty endorsed a U.S. district court judge's ruling, that the National Security Agency's terrorist surveillance program is unconstitutional, as a proper indictment of Bush policies: "There are laws on the books against what the administration is doing and it's about time somebody said it out loud." Cafferty attacked the "arrogant" Bush administration for its supposed "abuse of power" and accused the President of lying to the American people and violating his oath of office: "So what does this mean? It means President Bush violated his oath of office, among other things, when he swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States. It means he's been lying to us about the program since it started, when he's been telling us there's nothing illegal about what he's doing."

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# On the August 17, 2006 Countdown, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann bolstered the ruling by federal Judge Ann Diggs Taylor against the Bush administration's controversial NSA spying program that involves warrantless monitoring of international phone calls when one participant is a terrorist suspect. Referring to the ruling as a "judicial smackdown" and a "stunning ruling" against the program, Olbermann repeatedly referred to the NSA program as monitoring "our" phone calls or "our" emails. The MSNBC host further contended that since the program was revealed, "anybody who had actually read the Constitution" believed it would eventually be ruled as "patently illegal." Olbermann's guest discussing the topic was liberal law professor Jonathan Turley, who labeled Judge Taylor's ruling as a "very thoughtful opinion," called efforts by conservatives to discredit her as a liberal Carter appointee as "distasteful" and maintained President Bush "could well have committed a federal crime not once, but 30 times."

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# On ABC's Good Morning America on August 18, 2006, ABC's Jessica Yellin never acknowledged the liberal background of the Carter-appointed Judge Ann Diggs Taylor who, Yellin pointed out, "accuses the President of acting like a king" and says the NSA program "blatantly disregards" the parameters established in the Bill of Rights. Yellin labeled the court's decision a "stinging setback" for President Bush, and highlighted this warning to the President from George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley: "He could be impeached. And people should not be underestimating that.

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Rich Noyes
Rich Noyes
Rich Noyes is the Senior Editor for Newsbusters