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Posted by on Jan 5, 2006 in At TMV | 14 comments

Is NBC Investigating Whether The Government Spied On CNN’s Christiane Amanpour?

Are we on the brink of an even GREATER scandal in the domestic spying controversy? Could be…

Sometimes news stories need to incubate a bit before they’re published or broadcast: despite what some think, editors like to make sure they get everything just right, particularly these days where a mistake could mean a wave of public condemnation.

That would seem to be the most logical explanation of a potential scandal that, if true, could be a ticking time bomb — one that would change the Bush adminstration domestic spying controversy’s nature: was the government spying on CNN’s Christiane Amanpour?

If the allegation emerges in the form of a confirmed report the firestorm we’ve seen before (and the polarization as the administration goes on the offensive to defend the latest twist in what would be another expansion in executive power and change in accepted executive branch behavior) will seem like a sedate meditation session.

AMERICAblog’s John Aravosis first noticed something a bit strange in an NBC transcript….and soon after he put it on his website it vanished from the network’s site. Here’s the passage he originally cited:

New York Times reporter James Risen first broke the story two weeks ago that the National Security Agency began spying on domestic communications soon after 9/11. In a new book out Tuesday, “State of War,” he says it was a lot bigger than that. Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell sat down with Risen to talk about the NSA, and the run-up to the war in Iraq….

Mitchell: Do you have any information about reporters being swept up in this net?

Risen: No, I don’t. It’s not clear to me. That’s one of the questions we’ll have to look into the future. Were there abuses of this program or not? I don’t know the answer to that

Mitchell: You don’t have any information, for instance, that a very prominent journalist, Christiane Amanpour, might have been eavesdropped upon?

Risen: No, no I hadn’t heard that.

SIGNIFICANCE: It would be totally out of character for a veteran journalist such as Mitchell to simply drop that specific scenario out of thin air. If so, she would likely be in for a career change.

So that statement vanished from the website’s transcript, as Aravosis noted and pointed out to his readers.

Next came the TV Newser explanation from NBC. And, as in the case of Mitchell’s original, whacked statement on the NBC website, if this was sloppily written, someone may be in for a career change (the PR person who wrote it):

“Unfortunately this transcript was released prematurely. It was a topic on which we had not completed our reporting, and it was not broadcast on ‘NBC Nightly News’ nor on any other NBC News program. We removed that section of the transcript so that we may further continue our inquiry.”

So what’s going on? There are actually several possible explanations:

  • Mitchell could have some info from some source within the government that Amanpour was being secretly listened to. But network bigwigs need additional confirmation before they can run with it. Such confirmation might NOT be easy, by the way. They could have one “whistleblower” and decide they need a second or hold their breaths and run with a finished story based on the credibility of the first.
  • The source could be Amanpour herself who has reason to suspect it or was herself told by a source from within the government — but no confirmation yet. Suspicions aren’t enough.
  • Amanpour suspects it but she has no inside information that this has actually happened.
  • The source is someone outside of the government more in the form of an allegation that can’t be fleshed out or something that source heard — but it isn’t solid enough to put on the air yet, given the charge’s gravity.
  • Mitchell misspoke. (If so, and if press inquiries over The Case Of The Mysterious Transcript Deletion continue she might find herself re-assigned to cover the Amtrak beat).

The latter explanation makes NO sense at all. It’s illogical that a professional journalist would throw out such a question with such specificity unless there was something behind that question. The question is whether that “something” is solid or speculative.

We’ve said here repeatedly that so far there is no proof in this controversy that warrantless searches were used to spy on another political party. The administration’s defense has been that they need to find out about these Al Qaeda phone calls, etc. and that these were vital security matters. It’s another “trust me” argument that in this polarized climate doesn’t win everyone over, but is enough to partially offset more serious consequences.

If it turns out a reporter was being eavesdropped upon, it’s going to move this controversy onto another level. The press will want to find out more and there will be a particular scramble to find out if surveillance was used during election campaigns.

And would there be a massive condemnation by all players on the American political scene? In the end: most likely NOT. The administration would likely deny any NBC report OR say they had to do it for reasons they can’t disclose. The President and Vice President will go on the offensive and some influential talk show hosts would immediately adopt their explanation and justification.

You’d then see a certain number of folks going along with the administration — some because the administration has great credibility with them and others because with the 2006 mid-terms a lot is at stake politically.

It’s always possible NBC may never complete its inquiry if there isn’t sufficient confirmation (an increasingly IMPORTANT journalistic MUST that is going to come back into fashion after scandals such as Rathergate and the shocking case of the West Virginia miners “rescue” stories) to put it on the air and deal with an administration thrown into defense mode — which in this administration’s case often means offense mode.

If the Mitchell quote and NBC quote get mainstream media coverage and nothing comes of it, Mitchell and NBC and the press will emerge with a black eye.

But if it’s true, it will change the nature of what we’ve seen so far. And Americans are going to have to seriously ask themselves some tough questions about government activities, existing laws and whether the executive branch is operating with no accountability as it continually and unilaterally expands its own role.

SOME OTHER VOICES ON THIS ISSUE (NOTE: Due to logistics this will be updated throughout the day so check back. TMV will be away from his laptop for periods of time today since he is traveling. But MORE will be added):
Crooks and Liars
Gary Faber
Just One Minute
Middle Earth Journal
John Cole
The –Indepundit (Citizen Smash, one of our favorites)
The Heretik
Running Scared

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