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CBS Spotlights 'Firestorm' Over 'Obama's War on Journalism'; ABC Punts

Jan Crawford, CBS News Correspondent; Screen Cap From 23 May 2013 Edition of CBS This Morning | MRC.orgThe Big Three networks coverage so far of the Justice Department's questionable investigation of Fox News' James Rosen has followed a similar pattern to that of their coverage of the Kermit Gosnell case. Jan Crawford's report on Thursday's CBS This Morning was the first full report on growing controversy on ABC, CBS, and NBC's morning and evening newscasts. NBC briefly covered the investigation on Tuesday's Today, and ABC has yet to mention it.

Crawford pointed out how the DOJ's "unprecedented" surveillance of Rosen has "really just set off a firestorm of criticism from the left and right. For the first time ever, a presidential administration is treating news reporting like a crime, and a reporter like a criminal suspect." [audio available here; video below]

Anchor Charlie Rose teased the correspondent's report by wondering if "the Obama administration gone too far in its fight to stop leaks." Rose also pointed out that "the Obama administration is being accused of crossing a line. For the first time, a reporter is being treated like a criminal suspect for doing his job."

Crawford then led the segment with her "firestorm of criticism" line. She outlined that "the level of government surveillance over a reporter was unprecedented. Agents monitored Rosen's movements in and out of the State Department. They searched his personal e-mails and combed through his cell phone records."

After playing a clip from a recent White House press conference, where colleague and former Fox News correspondent Major Garrett questioned the "standard never before seen in a leak investigation", the CBS journalist underlined that "the investigation into Rosen has sparked a rare thing in Washington: bipartisan outrage over what some are calling 'Obama's war on journalism'. Just last week, the Justice Department came under fire for seizing two months of phone records from the Associated Press – action the President defended on national security grounds."

Later, Crawford played two soundbites from former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who blasted the Obama Justice Department's pursuit of the Fox News correspondent. She also highlighted that "journalists that I'm talking to here in Washington...say they're already seeing the impact of this, that their sources and whistle-blowers... [are] staying silent. And that, they say, could be the real impact of this. If the administration, kind of, intimidates people into not coming forward, people stay silent and the administration gets to control the information and the story."

On Tuesday's Today on NBC, news anchor Tamron Hall gave the same news briefs twice on the Rosen investigation – once just after the top of the 8 am Eastern hour and the other time 11 minutes into the 9 am hour:

TAMRON HALL: The Obama administration is also taking heat for prosecuting a State Department expert on North Korea and declaring that a Fox News journalist committed a crime by disclosing information that was leaked to him. During its probe of the State Department adviser, officials issued a search warrant for the private e-mails of Fox News chief Washington correspondent James Rosen, with the FBI naming him a criminal co-conspirator in this leak.

Now, his comings and goings from the State Department were also tracked. No charges have been filed against Rosen, but Fox News has come to his defense, saying he was acting within his right as part of a free press.

One wonders when ABC will get around to covering the ongoing controversy on Good Morning America or World News.

The full transcript of Jan Crawford's report on Thursday's CBS This Morning:

NORAH O'DONNELL: Court documents released this week show the Obama administration secretly monitored a Washington journalist. In seeking a search warrant, the FBI called James Rosen a criminal co-conspirator, even though he isn't charged with any crime.

Jan Crawford is at the Justice Department. Jan, good morning.

JAN CRAWFORD: Well, good morning Norah; good morning, Charlie. You know, these revelations have really just set off a firestorm of criticism from the left and right. For the first time ever, a presidential administration is treating news reporting like a crime, and a reporter like a criminal suspect.

[CBS News Graphic: "Investigating Journalism: FBI Monitors Movement, Emails, Phone Calls"]

JAMES ROSEN (from Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor"): I will always honor the confidentiality of my dealings with all of my sources.

CRAWFORD (voice-over): Fox News reporter James Rosen vowed Wednesday night to protect his source for a scoop he got back in 2009, reporting then that North Korea would respond to sanctions with more nuclear tests. But the information was classified, and the FBI launched an investigation to uncover Rosen's source that quickly focused on Rosen himself.

The level of government surveillance over a reporter was unprecedented. Agents monitored Rosen's movements in and out of the State Department. They searched his personal e-mails and combed through his cell phone records.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has deflected questions on the case.

MAJOR GARRETT (on-camera, from White House press briefing): The subpoena says James Rosen is a potential criminal because he's a reporter. Is the White House comfortable with that standard never before seen in a leak investigation?

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: But it's part of an ongoing criminal investigation, Major, and I – I simply can't comment on it.

CRAWFORD (voice-over): But the investigation into Rosen has sparked a rare thing in Washington: bipartisan outrage over what some are calling 'Obama's war on journalism'. Just last week, the Justice Department came under fire for seizing two months of phone records from the Associated Press – action the President defended on national security grounds.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (from May 16, 2013 press conference): I don't think the American people would expect me as commander-in-chief not to be concerned about information that might compromise their missions or might get them killed.

CRAWFORD: Critics say the administration has gone too far, and that the Rosen investigation is more an effort to control information that's available to the public.

MICHAEL MUKASEY, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: You couldn't claim, with a straight face, that disclosing whatever he disclosed in that story threatened the national security of the United States.

CRAWFORD: Michael Mukasey served as attorney general under George W. Bush.

MUKASEY: Something like this – which intimidates both the reporter involved, who has been designated a defendant or potential defendant, and anybody who would talk to him – makes it a whole lot easier in the future for the government to control the narrative.

CRAWFORD (live): Now, of course, media critics, the ACLU are saying that no presidential administration – not even the Nixon administration – went after reporters with search warrants and secret surveillance. And journalists that I'm talking to here in Washington, Charlie and Norah, say they're already seeing the impact of this, that their sources and whistle-blowers – those people who can be so important in bringing out information to the public that the government obviously may want to keep secret – that they're afraid to talk; that they're staying silent. And that, they say, could be the real impact of this. If the administration, kind of, intimidates people into not coming forward, people stay silent and the administration gets to control the information and the story. Charlie and Norah?

O'DONNELL: That it could have a chilling effect. Jan Crawford, thank you.

— Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.