Numerous news outlets -- including the Los Angeles Times, ABC, CNN, and CNBC -- uncritically reported President Bush's false claim that Democrats oppose "listening to," "detaining," "questioning," and "trying the terrorists." In fact, Democrats have repeatedly acknowledged the need to eavesdrop on, detain, question, and try terrorists, while objecting to specific Bush administration antiterrorism policies that they consider to be violations of current U.S. or international law, or unwarranted expansions of presidential powers.
In a segment on whether Osama bin Laden will release a propaganda tape prior to the midterm elections -- as he did two years ago -- NBC's Lisa Myers omitted any discussion of bin Laden's motivations in releasing the 2004 message, which the CIA reportedly determined to be an effort to assist in the re-election of President Bush.
On Fox News Sunday, Michael Barone falsely claimed that Democrats would prefer to "hang up the phone and go to court," rather than "listening to what ... terrorists are plotting." In fact, Democrats -- and numerous Republicans and conservatives -- have said nothing of the sort, pointing to a provision in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which the Bush administration has apparently violated, that allows the government to undertake surveillance in emergency situations for up to 72 hours before obtaining a warrant.
ABC's Robin Roberts and George Stephanopoulos juxtaposed actor Michael J. Fox's recent campaign advertisement for Missouri Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill with the Republican National Committee's (RNC) new advertisement featuring clips of Osama bin Laden and other terrorists making threats against the United States. Roberts claimed Fox's ad is "raising a lot of eyebrows," but she did not note that Fox, who has Parkinson's disease, has endorsed McCaskill because she supports embryonic stem cell research. Introducing the RNC ad, Stephanopoulos asserted that Republicans have a "big card" to play on "terrorism," but recent polling is mixed on whether the public trusts Democrats or Republicans more on dealing with terrorism.
CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC dedicated a considerable amount of airtime to a purported threat to NFL stadiums in seven cities, despite the fact that the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI both characterized the threat as not credible. Further, with one brief exception, at no point was there any reference on any of the three channels to evidence that the Bush administration has used terrorism-related announcements for political gain.
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At an October 11 press conference, President Bush said he "question[s]" what he claims is the Democratic "strategy that says we can't give those on the front line of fighting terrorism the tools necessary to fight terrorism." As evidence of this alleged "strategy," Bush pointed to Democratic votes against the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which addresses the interrogation and treatment of detainees and procedures for their trials, and their votes against a bill to authorize warrantless domestic wiretaps. None of the reporters present challenged Bush's attacks on those who opposed the bills or asked him to name a Democrat who opposes the authorization of "the tools necessary to fight terrorism."
In an interview with former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo, National Public Radio's Steve Inskeep failed to challenge Yoo's many assertions on the recently passed terror detainee bill, including the claim that a U.S. citizen captured in the United States and detained as an "enemy combatant" would have the "right," under this law, to challenge his or her detention in federal court.
On Special Report, Fox News' Major Garrett falsely suggested that the House's approval of a bill to govern detention and interrogations of U.S. detainees would allow all detainees to challenge their detention in court. In fact, the bill does not provide a procedure for a person who the government initially held as an enemy combatant but is subsequently determined not to be an "enemy combatant" or deemed release-eligible to appeal to a civilian court.
Los Angeles Times staff writer James Gerstenzang reported that the recently released National Intelligence Estimate said "that the militant movement opposing U.S. forces in Iraq had grown stronger." In fact, the NIE found that the Iraq war has boosted terrorist recruitment worldwide. By downplaying the NIE's judgments, Gerstenzang failed to provide proper context for the Democratic criticism noted in the article and added credence to President Bush's recent attack on those critics.
NBC's David Gregory claimed that "no one questions whether this president has been tough on terror," and that "Democrats charge the U.S. is creating more terrorists because of Iraq." But several reports have called into question Bush's "toughness" in the war on terrorism, and contrary to Gregory's suggestion that only Democrats are claiming "the U.S. is creating more terrorists because of Iraq," that assertion is one of the "key judgments" of recently declassified portions of the April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate.
OpinionJournal.com editor James Taranto cited a 1998 memo to then-President Bill Clinton titled "Bin Ladin Preparing to Hijack US Aircraft and Other Attacks" to claim that Clinton ignored evidence of the danger Al Qaeda posed to the United States. However, the 9-11 Commission detailed an immediate and aggressive response to the memo by the Clinton administration.
On NBC's Today, discussing the recent dispute between the Clinton and Bush administrations over which administration has better handled the terrorism threat, Bill Bennett falsely claimed that President Clinton was the one who "brought ... up" the topic of his administration's anti-terror efforts. In fact, the recent dispute between the Clinton and Bush administrations grew out of Clinton's Fox News interview, during which host Chris Wallace first brought up the subject by asking Clinton why he did not "do more to put [Osama] bin Laden and Al Qaeda out of business."
In reports on the dispute over the Bush and Clinton administrations' anti-terrorism policies and their culpability in failing to prevent the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Associated Press and Newsday presented the two sides of the argument without exploring the factual basis for either.