ABC, CBS Untangle Wiretap Claims

Does the evening news have a responsibility to analyze the most complicated stories?

On Monday, Mar. 6, all three networks covered President Trump’s claims that the Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower. Legal surveillance requires a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) order.

A FISA warrant for Trump Tower surveillance would imply that there was either a “criminal investigation or a counter intelligence case,” existed, said Scott Pelley during the CBS broadcast.

While all three broadcasts mentioned FISA, only ABC and CBS detailed the process to get approval from the FISA court. “A judge would have to sign off on it so I don’t see a scenario whereby President Obama could have done this by himself,” said Dan Abrams, ABC News chief legal analyst.

Jeff Pegues of CBS added, “The Justice Department must provide a federal judge with enough evidence to warrant a wiretap. The president cannot legally order the surveillance.”

NBC mentioned it in passing but did not explain that President Obama could not have ordered the wiretap, an apparent contradiction to President Trump’s tweets.

Should NBC have explained FISA warrants?

“Wiretapping is something everyone has heard of but few people know what it involves,” said Hooman Majd, a journalist and author. “Perhaps NBC could have given a little more context… It came up short in informing its viewers.”

“What was their news load?” said Carol Marin, a political editor with NBC Chicago.

This story aired on the same day that news broke of the revised travel ban and the new healthcare proposal. Marin suggested that further explanation from NBC could have been cut to leave time for those other stories.

When a major story breaks, how much depth should an evening news viewer expect?

“How [far] into a particular story the news broadcast can go is tricky,” said Majd. “It’s the job of the producers to decide what is crucial and what can be left out in a 22-minute broadcast.”

“You pick and choose your depths,” said Marin, who agreed that the depth of coverage varies based on importance and the other news of the day.

Jon Mednick

Jon Mednick is a senior broadcast journalism and marketing double major from Reisterstown, Maryland. He is currently a video editor at CBS affiliate WUSA9 in Washington, D.C. where he has been working for almost two years. Jon has worked with Pulsefeedz, the Left Bench, Capital News Service and WMUC Sports in his four years at Maryland. After he graduates in May, Jon would like continue pursuing a career in sports broadcasting. He can be reached at @J_Mednick on Twitter.

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