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CBS Trumpets Justice Dept. Leak Cases 'More Than Previous Administrations Combined'

Norah O'Donnell spun the recent controversy over national security leaks in the Obama administration's favor on Tuesday's CBS This Morning, touting that "the Justice Department...points out that they have launched six cases since 2009 to investigate these leaks. And interestingly...that is more than all previous administrations combined."

O'Donnell also forwarded the White House's talking point on the issue, that "the President said he has zero tolerance for these leaks, and that's why he said he's sure it wasn't anyone in his White House."

Anchor Charlie Rose emphasized the political component of the controversy during his promo at the top of the 7 am Eastern hour: "A capital showdown looms over alleged White House intelligence leaks." He continued this five minutes later as he introduced the correspondent's report: "President Obama's White House has been on the defensive for nearly a week now over classified information that was reported by the press. Republicans claim it was leaked by Democrats for political reasons."

O'Donnell led with her first mention of the administration's talking point: "Well, you've heard the President say -- he said it's offensive to suggest that anyone in his White House leaked information. But Senator [John] McCain says that is exactly what this White House did. And that's why today, Senator McCain is introducing a Senate resolution calling for a special counsel."

The CBS journalist just briefly touched on the seriousness of the leaks, and, like Rose in his promo, played up the partisan bickering over the issue. She did, however, include a clip of her tough question to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney at a press briefing on Monday:

O'DONNELL: The leaks involve highly classified information: one about the President's approval of drone attacks to target a secret kill list of terrorists; another included details about a joint American/Israeli cyber attack on Iran's nuclear program.

MCCAIN: This is one of the most serious breaches since anyone can remember.

O'DONNELL: Senator John McCain accuses the Obama administration of intentionally leaking the information to make the President look tough in an election year.

MCCAIN: Whenever there's a leak, look at who benefits, and then you can usually find out who did the leaking.

O'DONNELL: The Department of Justice quietly announced late Friday that it would appoint two U.S. attorneys - not an independent special counsel - to conduct a criminal investigation. But that is not enough for critics like Senator McCain, who are argue that these investigators still work for Attorney General Eric Holder.

O'DONNELL (on-camera, from White House press briefing): The President says he has zero tolerance for these kinds of leaks. Then, why not support a special prosecutor?

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There is no need for, you know, a special counsel. These things have consistently been investigated when that's appropriate.

At the end of her pre-recorded report, O'Donnell spotlighted that "the last special counsel was Patrick Fitzgerald, who investigated the Bush administration for leaking the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Fitzgerald, as a special counsel, had all the powers of an attorney general, and could subpoena whomever he wanted."

Rose then brought on the correspondent for a live segment on the controversy. The anchor set her up to trumpet the Obama Justice Department's supposedly proactive approach to the leaks, while O'Donnell twice used the administration "zero tolerance" talking point:

ROSE: Does the administration agree that there have been serious leaks, and these things are serious, and they want to see something done about them?

O'DONNELL: The President said he has zero tolerance for these leaks, and that's why he said he's sure it wasn't anyone in his White House. The Justice Department also points out that they have launched six cases since 2009 to investigate these leaks. And interestingly, Charlie, that is more than all previous administrations combined. There have been about three other prosecutions of leaks before that.

ROSE: But does the administration agree with Senator McCain, when he says this is the most serious breach that he can remember?

O'DONNELL: I don't know that they agree with that. I think there have been other serious breaches. But I think what this White House is saying - and the President has said - zero tolerance; it's got to stop; and that they've been tougher on prosecuting these leaks than anybody else. But I think you also have to remember - and many people would be surprised - there's actually no law against leaking classified information. Those people who have been prosecuted in the past - it's actually been under the espionage -- an espionage statute. That's what Daniel Ellsberg, with the Pentagon Papers, was prosecuted under. So it's very tough to get one of these convictions.

— Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.