In their January 17 coverage of the Bush administration's "innovative" new approach to domestic surveillance, numerous television outlets called the development a "major change," a "sharp reversal," and an "about-face," but not one noted that the administration's explanations of its new approach have been highly ambiguous, leaving significant questions about the extent to which the administration is actually ceding authority to the courts.
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A New York Post editorial falsely claimed that a 1996 "law" "permits the opening of mail without a warrant" and that a recent signing statement from President Bush merely echoed "the executive branch's authority created from the earlier law." In fact, the "law" is a postal regulation that allows mail to be opened when it is suspected to be an "immediate danger to life or limb or ... property." Bush's signing statement claimed that executive-branch officials may open mail without a warrant "in exigent circumstances," without specifically defining them.
CNN correspondent Brian Todd warned that "an onslaught of subpoenas" from congressional Democrats could be seen as "payback" by voters. However, polling indicates that a majority of the public favors oversight of certain aspects of the Bush administration.
While NBC has aired a segment on President Bush's "signing statement" on a postal reform bill that "quietly claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans' mail without a judge's warrant," ABC, CBS, and CNN have largely ignored the story, and ABC reported that Bush "acquired new powers" and suggested that they were "included" the bill.
On The Big Story, Fox News' Megyn Kendall reported that, during a speech, Sen. Patrick Leahy criticized the National Security Agency's warrantless domestic eavesdropping program, even though, she later claimed, he "doesn't know that much about" it. She later falsely suggested that "those who have been briefed on the program don't see any problem" with it. In fact, several members of the House and Senate committees have criticized the program.
In response to a question from Wolf Blitzer about why people have been wrongfully detained by the U.S. government, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales claimed he didn't "know the specific cases" Blitzer was "referring to." Blitzer did not challenge Gonzales or point out any of several such detainments documented by human-rights groups and foreign governments.
In reporting on the Justice Department's probe into the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program, the Associated Press left out the fact that President Bush had effectively shut down a previous probe -- by the department's Office of Professional Responsibility -- by denying investigators the necessary security clearances.