Early Show Provides Selective Snippets from "Domestic Spying" Hearing

February 7th, 2006 8:24 AM

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee for most of the day, yesterday, explaining in some detail why the NSA Terrorist Surveillance program is legal, why it's necessary, and why it is not "domestic spying." It was the lead news story on CBS' The Early Show this morning, and they demonstrated that, while they saw it, it didn't all meet their criteria for news. Obviously, you cannot capture the entirety of an 8-hour hearing in a 2-minute report, but, as always, it is instructive to see what makes the cut, and what doesn't. Here are some of the comments from the hearing, a couple from Attorney General Gonzales and a couple from different US Senators.

"...the constant repetition on the news media of the term "domestic spying," as opposed to spying on -- and electronic surveillance of somebody outside the United States connected with an organization that has as their goal the killing of Americans or the threatening of America or the destruction that happened on September the 11th, is entirely two different things..." - Senator Charles Grassley, during the Senate Hearings on the NSA Terrorist Surveillance Program, 2/6/2006

"...think about the reaction, the public reaction that has arisen in some quarters about this program. If the president had authorized domestic surveillance, as well, even though we're talking about Al Qaida-to-Al Qaida, I think the reaction would have been twice as great." - Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, 2/6/2006

"You made clear that what's been authorized here is not domestic surveillance; that is, starting from and ending in the United States. This is an international surveillance with known Al Qaida operatives, correct?" - Senator John Cornyn, to AG Gonzales, 2/6/2006

"I think people who call this a domestic surveillance program are doing a disservice to the American people. It would be like flying from Texas to Poland and saying that's a domestic flight. We know that's not true. That would be an international flight. And what we're talking about are international communications." - Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, 2/6/2006

And here's how CBS' The Early Show treated the hearing:

"Heated exchanges on Capitol Hill Monday as Attorney General Alberto Gonzales defended the legality of President Bush's domestic spying program." - Rene Syler, CBS Early show 2/7/2006

"Alberto Gonzales faced heated questions from senators about the president's domestic spying program yesterday." - Harry Smith, introducing Thalia Assuras report on the Senate Hearings on CBS' The Early Show, 2/7/2006

"DOMESTIC SPYING" - The headline on-screen during the crossover from Smith to Assuras and back, CBS' The Early Show, 2/7/2006

One of the video snippets during the report had Senator Feinstein saying "this program is much bigger and much broader than you want anyone to know." But that was speculation on her part. The introduction to that statement was her wondering why they hadn't been before the judiciary committee on this program before.

I cannot understand why you didn't come to the committee unless the program was much broader and you believed it would not be authorized. That's the only reason I can figure you didn't come to the committee. Because if the program is as the president has said and you have said, to this date you haven't briefed the Intelligence Committee, you haven't let us ask the question, "What is a link? What is an affiliate? How many people are covered? What are the precise -- and I don't believe in the briefings those questions were asked -- what are the precise numbers? What happens to the data? How long is it retained in a database? When are innocent people taken out of the database?" And I can only believe -- and this is my honest view -- that this program is much bigger and much broader than you want anyone to know."

Without the context, it seems like a statement of fact ("the program is bigger and broader") rather than the speculation ("I believe that the program is bigger and broader") that it actually was.

And every Senatorial quote that they used, even from the Republicans, was critical. The impression of someone whose only source of news on the hearing was The Early Show would have no idea of the amount of support that the Attorney General had on the committee yesterday. Nor would they be aware that the only significant discussion of precedents, which occurred between Senator Orrin Hatch and the Attorney General, which concluded that

...people who are wildly saying that the president is violating the law are ignoring all these cases that say that -- or at least imply that he has the inherent power to be able to do what he should to protect our nation during a time of war.

- Senator Hatch

In short, it was a typically biased, adversarial piece, lacking in context, one-sided and inaccurate, and inaccurately labeled. Other than that, it was splendid journalism...