- Post 14 June 2012
- By Rich Noyes | MRC.org
If Attorney General Eric Holder’s goal was to minimize broadcast network news coverage when he chose late Friday evening to announce a criminal investigation into how damaging national security secrets were released to the New York Times, the media have certainly played along.
Holder announced the investigation after the East Coast feeds of Friday’s ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts. While each of the networks included some discussion on their Saturday and Sunday broadcasts, including ABC’s This Week and CBS’s Face the Nation (NBC’s Meet the Presswas pre-empted by tennis), by Monday the networks had already lost interest.
Monday night, none of the Big Three bothered to tell viewers who might have missed news of the investigation over the weekend; CBS This Morning and NBC’s Today both raised the topic on Monday morning (the latter a segment in which, as MRC’s Kyle Drennen caught, MSNBC host Chris Hayes claimed “we need more leaks and not less.”) And on Tuesday, only CBS This Morning included the news in their political coverage, a round-up report from White House correspondent Norah O’Donnell.
UPDATE, June 13: Both ABC and CBS again avoided touching the leak story on their Tuesday night newscasts, while NBC gave the controversy just over a minute of a two-minute report by Kelly O'Donnell about a contentious congressional hearing with Attorney General Holder. O'Donnell played it as a partisan dispute: "Republicans leveled a series of accusations — the latest over national security leaks that Republicans allege could involve senior Obama administration officials."
That’s a far cry from how the networks hyperventilated in late September 2003 when the Justice Department announced a criminal probe into the identity of the “two senior administration officials” who told the late columnist Robert Novak the name of CIA employee Valerie Plame. As MRC’s Brent Baker recounted at the time, ABC, CBS and NBC all led their broadcasts with the story for several nights in a row, with commentary that fueled the notion that this was a case of partisan White House operatives who were putting politics ahead of national security.
■ Sunday, September 28, 2003: ABC and CBS led their evening broadcasts with word of a potential Justice Department investigation. (NBC Nightly News led with the California recall election, but included a full story on the leak probe as well.) Then-CBS anchor John Roberts breathlessly intoned: “If those allegations are true, whoever is responsible for the leak could be headed to jail for ten years.”
■ Monday, September 29, 2003: All three networks led with the story for a second night. CBS’s Dan Rather: “Under increasing pressure, the FBI and the Justice Department counter-espionage division now say they are investigating the leak of a CIA operative’s name, a federal crime that could endanger the agent and compromise her contacts....”
NBC’s Tom Brokaw that same night: “The big question ricocheting through the halls of Congress, the White House, the CIA, the Justice Department and newsrooms is this: Did administration officials deliberately blow the cover of a CIA agent as a measure of revenge against her husband?”
■ Tuesday, September 30, 2003: All three networks again led with the leak investigation. ABC’s Peter Jennings began with the words "Criminal Investigation" plastered beneath a picture of President Bush: “Good evening, everyone. The Justice Department told the White House last night, and the country learned about it this morning. There is a full-scale criminal investigation under way in Washington into who leaked a CIA officer's name to the press.”
■ Wednesday, October 1, 2003: While all three networks again produced full stories on the case, only NBC made it their top story. Correspondent Andrea Mitchell found it newsworthy that “even” Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton would want an independent investigation of the Republican White House: “Even Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who fiercely fought having a special counsel investigate her husband’s White House, today demanded one for George Bush.”