O'Reilly falsely claimed Bush kept full congressional intel committees informed of wiretapping program

››› ››› SAM GILL

On The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly falsely claimed that President Bush "kept all members of the Senate and House intelligence committees up to speed" on his program of domestic, warrantless electronic surveillance. But Republican and Democratic members of Congress have contradicted this assertion.

On the January 2 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly claimed that President Bush "kept all members of the Senate and House intelligence committees up to speed" on his program of domestic, warrantless electronic surveillance, an assertion contradicted by several congressional Democrats and Republicans. As The New York Times disclosed on December 16, Bush has repeatedly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on electronic communications within the United States without obtaining a warrant in apparent contravention of the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA). Although O'Reilly stated that all members of the House and Senate intelligence committees -- which total 35 members of Congress -- were kept "up to speed on the program," it has been reported that only a total of 14 legislators received briefings; several of them, both Republican and Democrat, have criticized the briefings as insufficient and have noted that those being briefed were prevented from publicly criticizing the administration because of the classified nature of the program.

During the same show, O'Reilly set a standard for his own reporting, vowing that "mistakes are mistakes, and they must be corrected." He made this promise in response to a December 28 New York Times article that corrected his erroneous assertion that Mexico has a 40 percent unemployment rate. The CIA World Factbook puts the Mexican unemployment rate at 3.2 percent. O'Reilly promised to correct his mistakes even though "far-left smear websites" are already going to do so because "[t]hat's the game they play."

O'Reilly's claim about the administration's briefing of members of Congress presents an opportunity for O'Reilly to fulfill his pledge. As Media Matters for America has already noted, both Democrats and Republicans have complained that they were not kept adequately apprised of the program. The New York Times reported on December 21 that former Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Bob Graham (D-FL) was never told in briefings that the program would involve spying on American citizens.

House Intelligence Committee chariman Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) and Senate Intelligence Committee ranking Democrat John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV) also protested that they received little information on the program and were barred from discussing it with others, according to the Times. Additionally, The Times reported that only 14 members of Congress were ever told of the program at all -- far fewer than the 35 combined members of the House and Senate intelligence committees O'Reilly asserted were kept "up to speed" on the program.

According to the same Times report, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) joined members of the congressional intelligence committees in criticizing the lack of disclosure, protesting the "single, very short briefing" he received. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) has also expressed reservations about the program and is reportedly planning a congressional inquiry. In addition to objections that the briefings were highly limited, some members of Congress have objected that the briefings did not meet requirements set under the National Security Act of 1947, which decreed that the president provide Congress with written reports on intelligence activities, not merely in-person briefings.

From the January 2 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, which included as a guest former assistant attorney general Andrew Fois:

O'REILLY: I don't know you can branch it out there, and for this very reason, Mr. Fois: that the president apparently kept all of the members of the Senate and House intelligence committees up to speed at what he was doing and why he was doing it.

[...]

O'REILLY: Time now for the "Most Ridiculous Item of the Day." As you know, my bloviation quotient is off the chart. I do three hours of analysis every weekday -- two on the radio, one on TV. With that much verbiage, I'm going to make mistakes and misstatements. And when I do, the far-left smear websites are going to headline them. That's the game they play. But mistakes are mistakes, and they must be corrected.

A couple of weeks ago I said the unemployment rate in Mexico is 40 percent. That's wrong. The poverty rate in Mexico is 40 percent. I misspoke. Now, The New York Times was kind enough to point out the mistake, and then reporter Simon Romero wrote the Mexican unemployment rate is, quote, "closer to four percent -- four percent," unquote. That, of course, is nonsense. The Mexican government puts that out, neglecting to define any standards of the stat. The truth is, the Mexican economy is a disaster, with per capita income a quarter of what it is here in the USA, which is why millions of Mexicans are willing to come here illegally and work brutally hard. Mr. Romero printed Mexican stats without context. Might be ridiculous, but so was my mistake.

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