In case you’re wondering how the media is handling Obama’s TSA Gropers as compared to Bush’s NSA Eavesdroppers, Newsbusters is hot on the case.
While the broadcast networks have generally empathized with the distress of airline passengers over the TSA’s new and intrusive airport searches, they have not — thus far, at least — gone so far as to impugn the Obama administration as launching a war against Americans’ civil liberties.
Indeed, NBC’s Matt Lauer on Monday even sympathized with TSA Administrator John Pistole: “I hate to even think of what happens if the government caves in on this, and relaxes these procedures, and someone manages to get something on board a plane and causes harm. Imagine the questions you’ll be asked at that point.”
But that’s not the approach those networks took when it was the Bush administration taking steps to protect citizens against potential attack. Instead, as a 2006 analysis by the Media Research Center documented, the networks firmly aligned themselves with those who saw the Patriot Act and the electronic surveillance of international phone calls as a dire threat to civil liberties.
While some on the Left claimed the media were enthusiastic boosters of the Bush administration in the days after 9/11, our analysts found network reporters began to question the idea of a vigorous War on Terror within days of the attacks. During live coverage on September 13, 2001, ABC’s late Peter Jennings suggested the United States might no longer be a free country. “Much of the evidence now being obtained in this investigation is being obtained under something called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is pretty much equivalent, I think some people believe, to martial law,” Jennings told former Clinton Justice Department official Eric Holder.
“As a result,” Jennings wondered, “do you believe that civil liberties have effectively been suspended in the country?”
For the next five years, network reporters would return to the “endangered civil liberties” topic in a majority of their stories about the Patriot Act (56 out of 91 stories, or 62%). The networks presented fears about a police state as valid and reasonable, perhaps even an admirable early warning. On the July 4, 2003 CBS Evening News, fill-in anchor John Roberts claimed that “as Americans celebrate their independence today, concern is growing that civil liberties are threatened as never before by the Patriot Act.”***In 2005, all three broadcast networks jumped on revelations in the New York Times that the National Security Agency (NSA) had been monitoring suspicious phone calls and e-mails to and from the United States. That first night, December 16, 2005, ABC’s World News Tonight began their broadcast with the words “Big Brother” beside a picture of President Bush; anchor Bob Woodruff teased, “Big Brother, the uproar over a secret presidential order giving the government unprecedented powers to spy on Americans.”