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Media Matters to America
November 2, 2005
Initial CNN, Fox coverage of closed Senate session emphasized GOP response over Democratic rationale
In their immediate coverage of the November 1 closed session of the U.S. Senate forced by Democrats under Rule 21 to discuss pre-war intelligence, CNN and Fox News largely omitted statements by Democrats explaining the reasoning behind this rare action, focusing instead on Republican complaints over the invocation of the closed-session rule.
Shortly before 2:30 p.m.,* Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) called to close the Senate. In a prepared statement on the floor, Reid detailed questions -- each of which concerned the Bush administration's use of intelligence to justify the war in Iraq -- that the Senate Intelligence Committee had failed to adequately address in its 2004 report on the intelligence community's pre-war assessments of Iraq. Reid's statement concluded:
Unfortunately the Senate committee that should be taking the lead in providing these answers is not. Despite the fact that the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee [Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS)] publicly committed to examine many of these questions more than 1 and 1/2 years ago, he has chosen not to keep this commitment. Despite the fact that he restated that commitment earlier this year on national television, he has still done nothing.
At this point, we can only conclude he will continue to put politics ahead of our national security. If he does anything at this point, I suspect he will play political games by producing an analysis that fails to answer any of these important questions. Instead, if history is any guide, this analysis will attempt to disperse and deflect blame away from the Administration.
After reading his statement, Reid declared:
There have been letters written to the committee, a press release was issued even saying that they were going to go forward with this [intelligence investigations]. Mr. President, enough time has gone by. I demand on behalf of the American people that we understand why these investigations aren't being conducted, and in accordance with Rule 21, I now move that Senate go into closed session.
Immediately after his motion was carried, from 2:27 p.m. until 2:41 p.m., three Democratic senators, Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), Charles D. Schumer (D-NY), and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), held a press conference to explain the rationale for the closed session. A Republican press conference featuring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and Sens. Trent Lott (R-MS), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), and Rick Santorum (R-PA), followed, from 2:47 p.m. until 3:01 p.m.
Neither Fox News nor CNN covered the event before 2:43 p.m., and in their initial coverage, both networks disproportionately featured Republican comments condemning Reid's move. Fox News, which initially reported on the event at 2:44 p.m., cut away at 2:45 p.m., returning to display Frist's remarks at 2:47 p.m. Fox News aired the Republican press conference uninterrupted until 2:57 p.m. and ended coverage at 3:00 p.m. Fox News did not broadcast any of the Democratic senators' comments.
CNN, which began coverage at 2:43 p.m. and did not cut to other news until 3:16 p.m., did not do much better. CNN aired two Democrats: Reid on the floor of the Senate as he invoked Rule 21 and Schumer during the press conference. Comments by all four Republicans (Frist, Lott, Kyl, and Santorum) also appeared on CNN. Overall, CNN granted Republicans 11.5 minutes of airtime and Democrats only 2 minutes.
*Press conference timestamps from C-SPAN. All timestamps are approximate Eastern Time.
— S.G., J.K., & J.M.