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CNN adopts White House's "terrorist surveillance program" terminology

Media Matters | February 15 2006

Summary: CNN became at least the fourth news outlet to adopt the administration's preferred term "terrorist surveillance program" to describe President Bush's warrantless domestic surveillance program.

On February 11, CNN became the most recent news outlet -- following Fox News, The Washington Times editorial page, and the Associated Press -- to adopt the White House's terminology for its warrantless domestic surveillance program. In a report on CNN Live Saturday, correspondent Brian Todd referred to it as the "terrorist surveillance program" without noting that the term is one promoted by the Bush administration to cast the program in a way most likely to secure the public's support.

Further, in a February 13 article, the AP again used the term without qualification; and in his February 10 column, Washington Times columnist Greg Pierce referred to the "government's terrorist surveillance program."

Bush first used the term 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. He said of the NSA's activities, "It's what I would call a terrorist surveillance program." The White House's first use of the term, however, came on January 22 when its press office released a backgrounder on the NSA program, in which the label appeared 10 times in reference to the domestic eavesdropping. The term appears to have originated on December 22 with the right-wing news website NewsMax.com, as Media Matters for America has noted.

On the February 11 edition of CNN Live Saturday, Todd used the term as he wrapped up a report on a recent lawsuit filed by intelligence expert James Bamford in an effort to halt the NSA's unwarranted eavesdropping:

TODD: Contacted by CNN, a current NSA spokesman said the terrorist surveillance program is highly classified and discussing it would compromise its effectiveness. He also would not comment on James Bamford's litigation. We also contacted the major telecom companies to ask them about their level of cooperation with the NSA. Neither AT&T, Sprint, nor Verizon would comment.

In previous instances when CNN reporters have used the term "terrorist surveillance program," they have indicated to viewers that it is a label promoted by the administration. For example, on the February 6 edition of CNN's American Morning, national security correspondent David Ensor referred to the "domestic surveillance program, which the administration calls the terrorist surveillance program." On the January 25 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, White House correspondent Dana Bash noted the new "label that the White House is using for this program, calling it the terrorist surveillance program." On the January 24 edition of The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer even remarked that the new term represented "smart strategy":

BLITZER: It's no longer domestic spying, warrantless surveillance. Its official new name is the terrorist surveillance program. Pretty smart strategy. Who could oppose a terrorist surveillance program?

From AP staff writer Jeff Douglas's February 13 article, "Bond: Attention is hurting surveillance effort":

The terrorist surveillance program could be destroyed if investigations and discussion by the media continue, Sen. Kit Bond said Monday.

The Missouri Republican and Senate Intelligence Committee member said he felt it was time to speak out before more details of the National Security Agency's program are released, potentially compromising it.

From Pierce's February 10 "Inside Politics" column:

President Bush's campaign to convince Americans that the government's terrorist surveillance program is essential to national security has had an effect: Last month, people disapproved, 56 percent to 42 percent. Now it's basically tied.


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