CyberAlert -- 08/26/2002 -- How Court Cited Clinton-Era Abuses Suppressed by Networks
How Court Cited Clinton-Era Abuses Suppressed by Networks; Washington Post Scolded Ashcroft, Ignored Clinton; NBC's Brown Perturbed Bush Gave Interview to Runner's World
1) Clinton-era abuses led a federal court to reject John Ashcroft's request for broader power in pursuing terrorism suspects, but the networks portrayed it as a scolding of the Bush administration. ABC's Peter Jennings: "A federal court tells the Bush administration it is abusing its power in the campaign against terrorism." CBS anchor John Roberts highlighted the "big setback for the Justice Department." At the very second NBC's Fred Francis was about to say "Clinton," the screen went to black and the audio dropped out. Only FNC's Carl Cameron pointed out how one judge credited Ashcroft with cleaning up the Clinton/Reno mess.
2) Friday's Washington Post story failed to inform readers that the FISA abuses took place during the Clinton years, a fact which the New York Times found important enough to put into its subhead, though the story itself did not ever mention the name "Janet Reno." The Washington Post headline: "Secret Court Rebuffs Ashcroft." The New York Times: "Secret Court Says F.B.I. Aides Misled Judges in 75 Cases." The subhead: "Clinton-Era Problems Cited in Sharing Intelligence with Criminal Investigators."
3) On Today, Campbell Brown was perturbed that President Bush gave an interview to Runner's World magazine. She simultaneously chided Bush and an editor from the magazine: "Do you think that opens him up to criticism that perhaps he should be paying a little more attention to some of the other issues?"
Abuses during the Clinton administration led a secret federal court panel to deny Attorney General John Ashcroft's request to expand the ability to share intelligence information with criminal prosecutors, but on Friday night network stories made only passing references to the Clinton administration as reporters focused on the "setback" for Ashcroft. Despite the fact that the department admitted in September of 2000 that it violated the evidence-sharing rules in 75 cases, no network ever uttered the name "Janet Reno," the Attorney General at the time.
Though one judge specifically praised Ashcroft for cleaning up the abuses, only FNC cited the judge's assessment.
The judges, who oversee the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), made their ruling in May but it became public after members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), asked that it be released.
A brief network-by-network rundown for the evening of August 23:
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings saw a rebuke of the Bush team: "A federal court tells the Bush administration it is abusing its power in the campaign against terrorism." Only deep in the subsequent story did John Yang mention the Clinton administration, but he made it sound as if the abuses were ongoing: "The court said the FBI misled it when it sought permission for wiretaps and search warrants, making mis-statements and omissions of facts in cases going back to the Clinton administration."
(On Sunday's This Week, Cokie Roberts posed a single question to Clinton's Deputy Attorney General, Jamie Gorelick, about the Clinton-era abuses.)
-- CBS Evening News anchor John Roberts highlighted the "big setback for the Justice Department" as he portrayed the abuses as ongoing as he added that the court said "the department has been abusing the authority it already has as far back as the Clinton administration." In the subsequent story, Jim Stewart didn't utter a word about Clinton or Reno. CBS reporter Jim Stewart uniquely recalled the Moussaoui case and how "because the bureau had already been slapped over ill-conceived FISA requests...it failed to ask the court's permission to search accused terrorist Zacharias Moussaoui's computer last year."
-- In his NBC Nightly News story, Fred Francis wrapped it up by trying to mention Clinton, but the screen went black and the audio cut off just as Francis began to pronounce the first syllable of the name Clinton: "The secret court says the FBI deceived it largely during the Cl-" (Francis's story aired in complete form on CNBC's The News with Brian Williams.)
-- CNN's Wolf Blitzer conceded the "mistakes" took place during the Clinton years, but Blitzer, nonetheless, stressed: "Still, this court's rebuff is another development that makes John Ashcroft a lightening rod for criticism over his department's role in the war on terror." Later, on NewsNight, David Ensor avoided the name Clinton: "The court also criticized the FBI for misleading the court 75 times before the Bush administration took over."
-- Only FNC's Carl Cameron pointed out how in the ruling one judge credited Ashcroft with cleaning up the Clinton/Reno mess. Cameron noted how one judge wrote: "We consistently find the (FISA) applications 'well-scrubbed' by the Attorney General and his staff before they are presented to us. The process is working. It is working in part because the Attorney General is conscientiously doing his job, as is his staff."
Now, more details about the Friday night coverage:
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings teased at the top of the broadcast: "On World News Tonight this Friday, a federal court tells the Bush administration it is abusing its power in the campaign against terrorism."
Jennings opened the August 23 show, as taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "Good evening, everyone. We are going to begin tonight with the first ever published opinion from a secret court. The court which operates inside the Justice Department says the Bush administration is not adequately protecting the privacy of American citizens and permanent residents. This has a great deal to do with the campaign against terrorism. The opinion was made public at the request of Senators from both parties on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Justice Department has already appealed the court's opinion. And so we go to Washington first. We have two reports. John Yang, who's in Washington, you have the details first of what this is all about."
Yang confirmed: "That's right, Peter. This court has been in existence since 1978, and in all those years, no one has ever heard a public word from it -- until now. The Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court operates in total secrecy within the Justice Department itself. It reprimanded the Justice Department and, particularly the FBI, for systematically violating citizens' privacy rights. The court says the department did it by sharing information gathered by counter-intelligence officers with federal prosecutors. In some cases, prosecutors used information gathered for intelligence when they did not have enough evidence of their own for a criminal search warrant."
Jennings set up a second story: "Ever since the September events, the Bush administration has sought aggressively to increase the powers of law enforcement, giving prosecutors and the FBI dramatic new powers to spy on people, to arrest them, and to detain them, as we all know. The administration says the court's ruling takes away necessary tools in the fight against terrorism."
-- CBS Evening News. Substitute anchor John Roberts opened the broadcast: "A big setback for the Justice Department in the war on terror. A secret U.S. court that deals with sensitive intelligence issues is refusing to expand the department's surveillance authority. The court saying the department has been abusing the authority it already has as far back as the Clinton administration. At issue are FBI requests to wiretap potential terrorists. The court says it was misled about the need for the surveillance. Jim Stewart has more tonight about the court, the decision, and the impact."
Though he cited the earlier abuses as the reason why the judges were angry at the Justice Department, Stewart who didn't mention Clinton. He began:
Stewart uniquely raised how the earlier abuses may have led to the failure to move in on a terrorist: "Ironically, it was because the bureau had already been slapped over ill-conceived FISA requests that it failed to ask the court's permission to search accused terrorist Zacharias Moussaoui's computer last year. That led to charges the FBI missed an opportunity to prevent the 9-11 attacks."
-- CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports at 5pm EDT. The fuller version of the Blitzer quote recited above: "The court cited more than 75 mistakes committed by the FBI in obtaining warrants for terrorism investigations. Most of those mistakes were committed by the FBI during the Clinton administration. Still, this court's rebuff is another development that makes John Ashcroft a lightening rod for criticism over his department's role in the war on terror."
-- FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume. Anchor Jim Angle managed to do what eluded the other networks as he gave equal weight both to how the court rejected an Ashcroft request and to how the problems which led to the ruling occurred in the Clinton years:
FNC's Carl Cameron noted that the Justice Department maintains the court ignored the Patriot Act which had expanded FISA. He then observed: "What did not escape the court's notice, however, was the conduct of the FBI during the last year of the Clinton administration. Some 75 FBI wiretap requests were rejected because the court said they were full of inaccuracies and misrepresentations. Former FBI Director Louis Freeh even signed off on one that is said to have been misleading. Under the Bush administration those errors were corrected and new procedure for requesting wiretaps adopted. And one judge on the court said quote, 'We consistently find the (FISA) applications 'well-scrubbed' by the Attorney General and his staff before they are presented to us. The process is working. It is working in part because the Attorney General is conscientiously doing his job, as is his staff.'"
-- NBC Nightly News. Last, but definitely not least since, whether by coincidence or happenstance, at the very second Fred Francis was about to say "Clinton," the screen went to black and the audio dropped out. This occurred during the show as broadcast at 7pm EDT on NBC-owned WRC-TV in Washington, DC, but was clearly a NBC network glitch, not something that just occurred on WRC. I assume they fixed it for the later MDT/PDT feed and I don't know whether it occurred during the 6:30pm EDT/5:30pm CDT showing on most EDT/CDT affiliates, but since WRC-TV's 7pm EDT showing is simply a delayed playing of the 6:30pm EDT feed, I'd assume it's what all EDT/CDT viewers saw.
Substitute and future permanent anchor Brian Williams introduced the lead story. He refrained from the kind of shots at the Bush administration stressed by ABC and CBS: "Good evening. After the attacks on September 11th, Americans were told this would be the war they wouldn't always be able to see. The same is also true, however, about intelligence gathering. And until now, the Bush administration has received much of what it has requested. But a secret court inside the Justice Department has spoken, and the administration is not happy."
Reporter Fred Francis proceeded to explain how the court ruled that Ashcroft had gone too far, blurring the line between intelligence gathering and criminal prosecutions. After noting how
Ashcroft says 9-11 changed how the department must function, Francis asserted:
Just as Francis began to pronounce the word "Clinton" the sound cut out and the screen went to black, but with the graphics listing Fred Francis's name, his Washington DC location and the NBC logo, still showing at the bottom of the screen.
After three seconds of silence and nothing but the graphics over a black screen, NBC jumped back to Brian Williams in the studio. He stated: "Fred Francis with us from Washington tonight, thanks."
Viewers of CNBC's The News with Brian Williams heard what Francis intended to say, though he used slightly different wording in the live wrap-up: "The secret court has said largely during the Clinton years, the FBI deceived it 75 times to get surveillance warrants. Now at this unprecedented public rebuke, the court is saying enough."
+++ Watch NBC go black and silent just as Fred Francis was about to say "Clinton." On Monday morning the MRC's Mez Djouadi will post a RealPLayer clip of the technical snafu. To view it, go to the posted version of this CyberAlert.
The New York Times as a model of balance compared to the Washington Post. As noted in item #1 above, Friday's Washington Post story failed to inform readers that the FISA abuses took place during the Clinton years, a fact which the New York Times found important enough to put into its subhead, though the story itself did not ever mention the name "Janet Reno."
"Secret Court Says F.B.I. Aides Misled Judges in 75 Cases," announced the August 23 New York Times front page headline above this subhead: "Clinton-Era Problems Cited in Sharing Intelligence with Criminal Investigators." The Washington Post headlined its front page story: "Secret Court Rebuffs Ashcroft." The subhead: "Justice Dept. Chided on Misinformation."
Avoiding the name Clinton, and clearly implying impropriety by current Justice Department officials, reporters Dan Eggen and Susan Schmidt referred to how the judges said "the government had misused the law and misled the court dozens of times."
As Jim Angle pointed out on Friday's Special Report with Brit Hume, the Post news story was contradicted by the paper's editorial the same day. The editorial pointed out what the reporting duo skipped: "Attorney General John Ashcroft is not blamed for these transgressions. Most or all of the misstatements appear to have taken place during the prior administration, and the court notes that the department and bureau wrote new rules last year to ensure the accuracy of FISA applications. The judges, moreover, appear to have no complaints about the quality of applications since Sept. 11."
To read the entire August 23 editorial: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A51447-2002Aug22.html
An excerpt from the Post's front page story by Dan Eggen and Susan Schmidt:
The secretive federal court that approves spying on terror suspects in the United States has refused to give the Justice Department broad new powers, saying the government had misused the law and misled the court dozens of times, according to an extraordinary legal ruling released yesterday.
A May 17 opinion by the court that oversees the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) alleges that Justice Department and FBI officials supplied erroneous information to the court in more than 75 applications for search warrants and wiretaps, including one signed by then-FBI Director Louis J. Freeh.
Authorities also improperly shared intelligence information with agents and prosecutors handling criminal cases in New York on at least four occasions, the judges said.
The department discovered the misrepresentations and reported them to the FISA court beginning in 2000.
Given such problems, the court found that new procedures proposed by Attorney General John D. Ashcroft in March would have given prosecutors too much control over counterintelligence investigations and would have effectively allowed the government to misuse intelligence information for criminal cases, according to the ruling....
END of Excerpt
For the entirety of the story: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A51220-2002Aug22.html
While the New York Times subhead stated, "Clinton-Era Problems Cited in Sharing Intelligence with Criminal Investigators," Washington Bureau reporter Philip Shenon did not raise Clinton's name until the 8th paragraph. An excerpt from his piece:
The nation's secret intelligence court has identified more than 75 cases in which it says it was misled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in documents in which the bureau attempted to justify its need for wiretaps and other electronic surveillance, according to the first of the court's rulings to be released publicly.
The opinion by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which was issued in May but made public today by Congress, is stinging in its criticism of the F.B.I. and the Justice Department, which the court suggested had tried to defy the will of Congress by allowing intelligence material to be shared freely with criminal investigators.
In its opinion, the court rejected a secret request made by the Justice Department this year to allow broader cooperation and evidence-sharing between counterintelligence investigators and criminal prosecutors. The court found that the request was "not reasonably designed" to safeguard the privacy of Americans. The court generally operates in secret and is responsible for approving warrants to eavesdrop on people suspected of espionage or terrorism.
The opinion may be important in documenting why the F.B.I. was hesitant last summer to seek court authority to search the computer and other belongings of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the Sept. 11 attacks....
Justice Department officials noted that the criticism of the department in the opinion referred mostly to actions by the department and the F.B.I. in the Clinton administration....
In its opinion made public today, the court, which is based in Washington, documented the "alarming number of instances" during the Clinton administration in which the F.B.I. might have acted improperly.
The opinion was part of a package of material presented this week by the court to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is reviewing requests by the Justice Department for even broader investigative powers in the aftermath of Sept. 11. The committee released the documents today, along with a statement from the panel's chairman, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, who said, "this ray of sunshine from the judicial branch is a remarkable step forward for constructive oversight."...
END of Excerpt
For the story in full: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/08/23/national/23FBI.html
A little jealousy? Filling in on Today, NBC News White House reporter Campbell Brown seem perturbed on Thursday that President Bush decided to give an interview to Runner's World magazine over other outlets and herself.
On the August 22 Today, Brown complained to Runner's World Deputy Editor Bob Wischnia: "You kept all your questions to him the context of running. I guess he wouldn't reveal his secret war plans. Did the White House say to you anything is off limits?"
Confirming her worst fears of a journalistic failing, Wischnia said nothing was off limits. Why an editor with a jogging magazine should be expected to ask about other topics, Brown did not explain. It's not as if reporters don't get to raise things like Iraq with Bush. They did it more than once during press availabilities last week in Crawford, Texas.
Earlier, to a flabbergasted Wischnia, Brown simultaneously chided President Bush and Wischnia for even doing an interview about jogging: "We've seen him on the golf course, everyone knows he's an avid runner and he's certainly not the first President to be so into fitness. But the fact that he's giving his first major magazine interview of the year to Runner's World, do you think that opens him up to criticism that perhaps he should be paying a little more attention to some of the other issues?"
For a bio of Brown with a picture of her: http://www.msnbc.com/news/625103.asp
The Runner's World Web page features a story about the interview: "Runner's World deputy editor Bob Wischnia filled a major segment on NBC's Today Show this morning talking about his run with President George Bush at the June 22 Fitness Challenge in Washington, D.C. That's the race where Bush clocked a 20:29 on a certified 3-mile course. Wischnia and RW footwear editor Paul Carrozza paced the President, then were granted an exclusive 20-minute interview with Bush." For the rest of the posting: http://220.127.116.11/home/0,1300,1-0-0-ZNEWS----08-22-2002,00.html
The Bush interview will appear in the upcoming October issue of Runner's World.
> I'm taking a few days off, so don't count on many CyberAlerts until after Labor Day. But this week will bring another labeling study in Tuesday's Media Reality Check and a special video treat for the holiday weekend at the end of the week. -- Brent Baker, in New Hampshire