Summary: An ABC World News report on a federal district judge's ruling that the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program is unconstitutional featured only Bush administration officials and a senior research fellow from the conservative Heritage Foundation defending the "necessity" of the program. The report did not note that the program's effectiveness has been called into question.
An August 17 ABC World News with Charles Gibson report on District Court Judge Anna Diggs Taylor's ruling that the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program is unconstitutional featured only Bush administration officials and a senior research fellow from the conservative Heritage Foundation defending the "necessity" of the program. While ABC did excerpt Taylor's ruling and air footage of author and journalist James Bamford, a plaintiff in the case, challenging the program's legality, they offered no challenge to the program's effectiveness, which has been called into question.
As Media Matters for America has noted, a January 17 New York Times article cited "current and former officials" in reporting that "virtually all" of the leads generated by the program "led to dead ends or innocent Americans." Rather than noting this, however, ABC aired footage of President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzalez defending the "importance" of the "necessary" and "essential" program, and reported that "many national security experts ... agree that the program is essential" -- airing a clip of Heritage Foundation senior research fellow James Carafano saying: "You cannot argue that programs like this don't help."
From the August 17 broadcast of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson:
CHARLES GIBSON (anchor): The Bush administration suffered a major legal defeat today. A federal judge declared its surveillance program of overseas phone calls from this country conducted without warrants to be unconstitutional. The president has called the program a crucial tool in the war on terror. We turn to ABC's chief White House correspondent, Martha Raddatz.
RADDATZ: The wiretap ruling came with stinging criticism from U.S. District Court Judge Anne Diggs Taylor. "It was never the intent of the Framers to give the president such unfettered control," said the judge, "particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights." Judge Taylor said the administration's failure to obtain warrants for the eavesdropping program violated both the right to privacy and free speech.
BAMFORD: What it says is the president of the United States isn't a king. He's just like every other citizen when it comes to a law.
RADDATZ: The White House response to the ruling: "We couldn't disagree more." And the Justice Department immediately appealed the decision.
GONZALES: And we have confidence in the lawfulness of this program. And that's -- and that's why the appeal has been lodged. This is an important program.
RADDATZ: This is a significant blow to the Bush administration, which has strongly defended the legality and the necessity of the program since its disclosure last December.
BUSH: I believe what I'm doing is constitutional, and I know it's necessary.
CHENEY: I can tell you the terrorist surveillance program has been absolutely essential.
RADDATZ: And there are many national security experts who agree that the program is essential.
CARAFANO: We just saw a plot broken up. People planned to kill thousands of people. You cannot argue that there's not a serious problem out there. You cannot argue that programs like this don't help.
RADDATZ: Despite the ruling, the spying program will continue, Charlie, until the appeal has been heard. But that could take some time.