Media outlets ignored dispute over Specter's refusal to swear in Gonzales


Most major news outlets did not report the dispute over Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter's refusal to swear in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales at the committee's hearing on the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program.

In reporting on Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales's February 6 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program, a number of major print and broadcast media outlets failed to report the dispute and the party-line rejection of the Democrats' demand that Gonzales be sworn in, or even the fact that committee chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) did not swear in Gonzales even though Gonzales had reportedly agreed to testify under oath.

As the Los Angeles Times reported on February 7: "The hearing's tone was set at the start as Democrats disputed the decision by Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) not to require Gonzales to testify under oath. Gonzales expressed a willingness to take the oath, but Specter said it was not necessary, noting that administration officials usually were not sworn in before testifying to Senate committees." Committee Democrats countered by noting Specter's assertion that Gonzales had not objected to being sworn in, that Gonzales had provided sworn testimony on domestic surveillance in the past, that he had been sworn in on previous occasions other than his confirmation hearing, and that Republican senators had insisted that former Attorney General Janet Reno be sworn in for appearances other than her confirmation hearing. Ultimately, in a 10-8 party-line vote, the committee refused to swear in Gonzales.

While Specter's refusal to require that Gonzales testify under oath does not shield Gonzales from liability if he said something untrue, it did spare him the inevitable front-page photo of the attorney general with his hand up, swearing to tell the truth, a courtesy that Democrats said was not similarly extended to Clinton administration officials.

Nevertheless, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today omitted from their February 7 coverage of the hearing any mention of the dispute over Specter's refusal to require Gonzales to testify under oath despite Gonzales's purported willingness to do so. ABC's World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News, NBC's Nightly News, and PBS' The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer similarly failed to mention in their February 6 broadcasts that Gonzales's testimony was unsworn.

In his February 7 "Washington Sketch" column, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank noted the committee's dispute over whether to swear in Gonzales. However, the Post's news coverage made no mention of Specter's refusal to swear in Gonzales at the February 6 hearing.

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