AP picks up White House's "terrorist surveillance program" terminology


Following the lead of Fox News and The Washington Times editorial page, an article by the Associated Press adopted a variation of the White House terminology "terrorist surveillance program" to describe the Bush administration's domestic spying program.

Following Fox News' and The Washington Times editorial board's leads, a February 9 Associated Press article by staff writer Katherine Shrader adopted a variation of the White House's terminology for its warrantless domestic surveillance program, referring to it as the "anti-terrorist surveillance program." Bush first used the term "terrorist surveillance program" publicly in a January 23 speech at Kansas State University in which he defended his authorization of the National Security Agency (NSA) to intercept communications of U.S. residents without court warrants. Bush said of the NSA's activities, "It's what I would call a terrorist surveillance program." The article also referred to the monitored communications as "terror-related," even though the vast majority of them have reportedly led to "dead ends or innocent Americans."

As Media Matters for America has noted, the term "terrorist surveillance program" appears to have originated with the right-wing news website NewsMax.com on December 22; operators of right-wing weblogs began to pick up the term on January 20, according to a timeline by the weblog Think Progress. On January 22, the White House press office released a backgrounder on the NSA program, in which the term appeared 10 times in reference to the domestic eavesdropping.

Beginning on January 25 (noted here and here) -- during a week that saw the administration go on the offensive to defend its practice of wiretapping U.S. residents without obtaining warrants -- Fox News began slipping the term "terrorist surveillance program," or a variation thereof, into its news reports and commentary to describe the National Security Agency's (NSA) program. Since then, Fox News reporters and anchors have continued to use the term "terrorist (or terror) surveillance program" in their reporting. A February 2 Washington Times editorial on President Bush's State of the Union address also adopted the White House's terminology for its warrantless domestic surveillance program, as did several regional newspapers and editorial boards.

Reporting on the Bush administration's decision to brief full Congressional intelligence committees on the NSA spy program, Shrader used the term "anti-terrorist surveillance program" to describe the program:

At least one Democrat left saying he had a better understanding of legal and operational aspects of the anti-terrorist surveillance program. But he said he still had a number of questions.

The article also uncritically described the NSA program's intercepted communications as "terror-related." But, as a Media Matters previously noted, The Washington Post reported on February 5 that out of thousands of Americans whose communications have been monitored by the NSA without a court order, "fewer than 10" U.S. citizens or residents "aroused enough suspicion during warrantless eavesdropping to justify interception of their domestic calls, as well." The Post report followed a December 17, 2005, New York Times article, which noted that "virtually all" of the phone conversations monitored by the NSA have "led to dead ends or innocent Americans," according to "[m]ore than a dozen current and former law enforcement and counterterrorism officials."

Most news outlets noting the moniker have placed it in quotes or disclosed it is a term the Bush administration has promoted. The AP article has been picked up by the websites of numerous news outlets, including CNN.com, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Houston Chronicle, ABCNews.com, the Jackson News-Tribune (Wyoming), Newsday, Forbes.com, The Oregonian, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the San Diego Union-Tribune, and The Cincinnati Post.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Domestic Spying
Associated Press
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.