Fox follows Bush's lead, renames domestic spying program as “terrorist surveillance program”

Fox News has adopted the Bush administration's terminology for its warrantless domestic spying program, calling it the “terrorist surveillance program.”

Not long after the Bush administration adopted new rhetoric to describe its warrantless domestic surveillance program, Fox News reporters and anchors began using the White House's terminology, referring to it as a “terrorist surveillance program.” Beginning on January 25 -- during a week that saw the administration go on the offensive to promote its practice of spying on U.S. residents without obtaining warrants -- Fox News began slipping the term, without qualification, into its news reports and commentary. For example, reporter Harris Faulkner, on the January 25 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, used the term during a news brief when she noted that " '[s]trange and farfetched' ... is what New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is calling President Bush's defense of his terror surveillance program."

During what many in the media have described as the White House's weeklong “blitz” to foster support for the wiretapping program, on the January 24 edition of the Fox News morning show, Fox & Friends, co-hosts E.D. Hill and Steven Doocy used the term “terrorist surveillance program” while discussing the president's January 23 Kansas State University speech in which he began using the term publicly. Hill and Doocy concurred that the White House's terminology “sounds better” and “is more accurate” -- presumably than other descriptions of the program, such as “domestic spy program,” “warrantless wiretapping” and “NSA domestic surveillance program.” The following day on Fox & Friends First, Doocy and co-host Brian Kilmeade announced their intention to refer to the program as “the terrorist surveillance program.”

On January 22, the White House Press press office released a backgrounder -- called “Setting the Record Straight” -- on the NSA spy program, in which the term “terrorist surveillance program” appeared 10 times in reference to the NSA's controversial practice, authorized by the White House, of the warrantless surveillance of people in the United States, including U.S. citizens. The term “terrorist surveillance program” appears to have originated with the right-wing news website on December 22; operators of right-wing weblogs began to pick up the term on January 20, according to a timeline at the Think Progress blog.

As Media Matters for America has noted, Fox also followed the White House's lead in replacing the terms “suicide bomber” and “suicide bombing” with “homicide bomber” and “homicide bombing” to describe attackers who kill themselves and others with explosives. On April 12, 2002, then-White House press secretary Ari Fleisher adopted the term, and Fox News immediately followed suit in its reporting. According to an April 13, 2002, Associated Press report, “Dennis Murray, executive producer of [Fox News'] daytime programming, said executives there had heard the phrase [”homicide bombing"] being used by administration officials in recent days and thought it was a good idea." In a February 23, 2005, item, Media Matters documented Fox's doctoring of AP articles featured on the Fox News website concerning terrorist attacks in the Middle East to conform to Bush administration terminology -- even altering a quote from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) to fit the White House jargon.

Initially, when using the phrase, “terrorist surveillance program”, Fox News reporters and anchors noted that it was the term promoted by the Bush administration. For example, on January 23 broadcast of Your World with Neil Cavuto news update anchor Uma Pemmaraju highlighted the switch:

PEMMARAJU: President Bush on the offensive against critics of domestic wiretapping in the war on terror. The president, speaking at Kansas State University, relabeled his effort the “terrorist surveillance program.” He says it was within the law to eavesdrop on people communicating with Al Qaeda associates outside the U.S. after 9-11.

But beginning January 25, use of the phrase began to appear in Fox News reports without any indication that the White House has promoted it.

From Faulkner's news brief during the January 25 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

FAULKNER: “Strange and far-fetched,” that's what New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is calling President Bush's defense of his terror surveillance program. For example, President Bush has said Congress gave him the authority as part of a terror fight resolution passed after 9-11. Senator Clinton says she doesn't buy that argument, calling it “a stretch.”

From the January 25 broadcast of Fox & Friends First:

KILMEADE: Let's call it the terrorist surveillance program. That would be a lot easier. And right now, if you're--

DOOCY: And more accurate.

KILMEADE: Yeah, more accurate too. If you're for the NSA wiretapping without going to the FISA court, I guess warrantless, then most likely you're Republican. If you are against it, you most likely are a Democrat. Here is what the president is going to be focusing on: the independents.

As Media Matters has previously documented, numerous Republicans and conservatives have expressed concern over the legality of the NSA warrantless spy program.

From the January 24 broadcast of Fox News Channel's Fox and Friends:

DOOCY: I wouldn't be surprised if George W. Bush is looking for a house in Manhattan, Kansas, because the audience yesterday at the Alf Landon Lecture Series at Kansas State University gave him a warm reception. He was talking at great length about the terrorist surveillance program -- that's now how it is being referred to by the White House -- and as we heard the president say at the top of this program just four minutes ago --

HILL: It sounds better, doesn't it? It's more accurate.

DOOCY: It is more accurate, and it tells you what it's about. And he made a good point: He said, “If I wanted to break the law, why was I briefing Congress?”