Nets Hype Charge Bush Leaked “Secrets,” ABC Compares to Revealing Secret Prisons

Like the cable networks during the day, the three broadcast networks on Thursday night were hyperbolic over the revelation that Vice President Cheney's former top aide, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, testified that in July of 2003 President Bush had authorized the leaking of parts of a classified pre-war report on Iraq in order to correct misinformation being spread by Joe Wilson. All the newscasts led with the allegation and stressed Bush's hypocrisy in denouncing leaks while leaking material himself, but NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams was the most dramatic in employing the most nefarious language. He intoned: “There is an allegation tonight that President Bush authorized the leak of government information -- sensitive, classified information about Iraq -- in order to get back at a critic of his administration and the build-up to war.” Referring to Libby's charge, Williams asserted: “If what he is saying is true, it would mean he was used, in effect, by the President and Vice President to leak secrets. It is a story of much intrigue, big names, and potentially very high stakes.”

Bob Schieffer teased the CBS Evening News: “President Bush has long made clear he despises leaks and leakers. But tonight, he is accused of authorizing a leak of classified intelligence." ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas asked: “Did the White House practice the opposite of what it preached?" White House correspondent Martha Raddatz equated Bush's supposed divulging of a pre-war assessment of a regime which no longer existed with those who disclosed ongoing operational information about the efforts to prevent terrorist attacks: “The Bush administration has vigorously pursued investigations of those who leaked documents pertaining to the secret domestic spying program, and to disclosures of secret prisons run overseas." (Partial transcripts follow.)

All three network stories at least noted the White House's contention that the President can un-classify any document he wishes.

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth collected the teases and leads of the April 6 ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts.

ABC's World News Tonight:
Elizabeth Vargas, in opening teaser: "I'm Elizabeth Vargas. Tonight, President Bush is accused of authorizing a leak of sensitive intelligence on Iraq. Did the White House practice the opposite of what it preached?"

Vargas led: "Good evening. We begin with accusations for the first time that President Bush authorized the leaking of sensitive intelligence gathered before the war in Iraq. Documents unveiled today say the President authorized the leak to help defend his case for going to war. President Bush has been very critical of anyone who leaks information, and his administration has aggressively investigated leakers in the past. ABC's Martha Raddatz joins us now. And, Martha, these revelations are part of an investigation that started with the leaking of the identity of a CIA agent named Valerie Plame."

In the subsequent story, Martha Raddatz offered this as evidence of Bush's hypocrisy: “In fact, the Bush administration has vigorously pursued investigations of those who leaked documents pertaining to the secret domestic spying program, and to disclosures of secret prisons run overseas.”


CBS Evening News:
Bob Schieffer, in opening teaser: "Good evening. I am Bob Schieffer. President Bush has long made clear he despises leaks and leakers. But tonight, he is accused of authorizing a leak of classified intelligence."

Schieffer led: "Lewis Libby was Vice President Cheney's most trusted aide, but he had to resign when a federal prosecutor indicted him for allegedly lying to a grand jury during the big investigation into who leaked the identity of secret CIA agent Valerie Plame. Well, Libby isn't going quietly, it turns out. In court papers filed today, he says that President Bush and Vice President Cheney authorized him to leak classified information to build support for the war. Our national correspondent Gloria Borger has the latest."

Gloria Borger began: “For a President who has always prided himself on keeping secrets-”

Bush, September 30, 2003: “Leaks of classified information are a bad thing.”

Borger: “-today's news could hardly be more embarrassing. Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide says that President Bush himself authorized leaking a classified document to make the case that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program...”


NBC Nightly News:
Brian Williams, in opening teaser: "Leak investigation: Did President Bush authorize the leak of classified intelligence on Iraq? A new disclosure tonight in a court case involving an undercover CIA officer."

Williams led his newscast: "Good evening. There is an allegation tonight that President Bush authorized the leak of government information -- sensitive, classified information about Iraq -- in order to get back at a critic of his administration and the build-up to war. This piece of information came to us today inside court papers having to do with the case of Scooter Libby, the former chief aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. This allegation comes from Libby himself. And if what he is saying is true, it would mean he was used, in effect, by the President and Vice President to leak secrets. It is a story of much intrigue, big names, and potentially very high stakes. We begin here tonight with NBC's Lisa Myers."

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