Charlie Rose Takes His Time to Raise NSA Controversy with Obama; Ignores Other Scandals

On Monday, Charlie Rose was more than halfway through his 47-minute interview with President Obama on PBS before he finally brought up one of the several scandals surrounding the liberal's administration. Rose pursued Obama about the NSA's leaked domestic surveillance program, but failed to mention any of the other scandals, including the IRS's targeting of conservative groups and the Justice Department's investigation of journalists.

The veteran journalist also echoed the President's critics from the left about "the notion of that you have simply continued the policies of Bush/Cheney...many people say you're Bush/Cheney-lite. And then, people write columns saying, no, no, no, he's not that at all! He's tougher."

Rose spent the first 26-plus minutes of the interview on mainly two foreign policy subjects: the ongoing civil war in Syria and the stumbling blocks in the relationship between the U.S. and China. The PBS host first alluded to NSA leaker Edward Snowden as he questioned the President about Chinese hackers infiltrating America's public and private computer systems:

CHARLIE ROSE: What happened when you pushed back on the question of hacking....Do they now say – look, see, you're doing the same thing? We've been reading about what NSA is doing and you're doing the same thing that we're doing...And the man who is now unleashing these secrets, who's telling everybody, is in Hong Kong and may be talking to the Chinese.

Moments later, Rose explicitly brought up the NSA subject and asked, "You famously talked about...what you called the wrong choice between security and freedom. Where do you put what NSA is doing in that balance between security and freedom?"

The President replied by citing a recent speech, stating that he "specifically said one of the things we need to debate and examine is our surveillance programs". He added, "I continue to believe, is that we don't have to sacrifice our freedom in order to achieve security. That's a false choice. That doesn't mean that there are not trade-offs involved in any given program, any given action that we take."

Over the next several minutes, the journalist and the Democrat engaged in a back-and-forth over checks and balances in surveillance and transparency:

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: ...What I can say unequivocally, is that if you are a U.S person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls, and the NSA cannot target your e-mails-

ROSE: And have not?

OBAMA: And have not. They can not and have not – by law and by rule – and unless they – and usually, it wouldn't be they, it would the FBI – go to a court and obtain a warrant and seek probable cause – the same way it's always been. The same way when we were growing up and we were watching movies – you know, you wanted to go set up a wiretap, you've got to go to a judge, show probable cause and then the judge looks at that probable cause-

ROSE: But have any of those been turned down? All the requests to FISA courts – have they been turned down at all?...I hear you saying, I have no problem with what NSA has been doing.

OBAMA: Well, let me – let me finish, because I don't. So, what happens then is, is that the FBI – if, in fact, it now wants to get content; if, in fact, it wants to start tapping that phone – it's got to go to the FISA court with probable cause and ask for a warrant. So-

ROSE: But has FISA courts turned down any request?

OBAMA: Because the – first of all, Charlie, the number of requests are (sic) surprisingly small – number one. Number two, folks don't go with a query unless they've got a pretty good suspicion.

ROSE: Should this be transparent in some way?

OBAMA: It is transparent. That's why we set up the FISA court. Look, the whole point of my concern, before I was president – because some people say, well, you know, Obama was this raving liberal before; now, he's – you know, Dick Cheney....My concern has always been not that we shouldn't do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism, but rather, are we setting up a system of checks and balances? So, on this telephone program, you've got a federal court with independent federal judges overseeing the entire program, and you've got Congress overseeing the program...all of Congress had available to it, before the last re-authorization, exactly how this program works....

Rose brought up the left's critiques in a softball manner towards the end of the interview, and specifically singled out the use of unmanned drones and the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The President used part of his answer to attack his conservative political opponents:

ROSE: Let me turn to a number of things. Let me just – before I do, though – the notion of that you have simply continued the policies of Bush/ does it make you feel? How do you assess it, because many people say – you know, you're Bush/Cheney-lite? And then, people write columns saying, no, no, no, he's not that at all! He's tougher in terms of drones; in terms of surveillance; in terms of many things – Guantanamo Bay.

OBAMA: Well, look, I haven't yet closed Guantanamo, so one of the things you learn as president is, you know, what have you done for me lately? If you didn't get it done, then it's your problem. And I accept it – that's my job. So until I close Guantanamo Bay, they're right. I haven't closed Guantanamo Bay. When it comes to-

ROSE: Drones?

Charlie Rose, PBS Host; & President Barack Obama; Screen Cap From 17 June 2013 Edition of PBS's Charlie Rose Show | NewsBusters.orgOBAMA: When it comes to drones, I gave an entire speech on this. and what I have said is – and this is absolutely true – is that we have put in place a whole series of measures that are unprecedented, and we will continue to do so. You know, we ended enhanced interrogation techniques. We ended some of the detention policies that had been in place that violated our values. There are a whole range of checks and balances that we've put in place. But I think it's fair to say that – you know, there are going to be folks on the left – and, you know, what amuses me is now, folks on the right, who were fine when it was a Republican president-

ROSE: (laughs) Yes-

OBAMA: But now, you know, Obama's coming in with black helicopters.
ROSE: Politics makes strange bedfellows, doesn't it?

Rose did slightly better than his July 2012 interview of the President and Mrs. Obama, where he spent over four straight minutes to the couple's summer vacation, family life, and marriage. He started off that interview by showing off a 2009 Newsweek cover that had a picture of Mr. Obama taking the oath of office.

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