Nomination of James Comey, described as a 'big, hairy deal' by Rachel Maddow in May, seemingly forgotten by her and colleagues
Controversial Bush-appointee otherwise set to head FBI for next decade...
By Brad Friedman on 7/12/2013, 1:50pm PT  

I have been unable to find any evidence that even one single primetime program at cable news channel MSNBC --- which bills itself as "The Place for Politics" --- spent even one minute of coverage on this week's 3-hour oversight hearing in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee for President Barack Obama's nominee to be the next Director of the FBI.

The current Director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, was appointed by George W. Bush, and has served in that position since the week prior to 9/11/2001. During his tenure, there has been a vast, radical expansion of the use of torture, indefinite detention, and massive foreign and domestic surveillance by the U.S. Government. While the term for an FBI Director is ten years, Mueller has served almost twelve, following a two-year extension requested by Obama and authorized by the Senate --- which is responsible for advice, consent and confirmation of FBI Director nominees --- in 2011.

James Comey, Jr., who served as U.S. Deputy Attorney General during the George W. Bush administration, after having served as one of Bush's U.S. Attorneys, has been nominated by Obama to become the next Director of the FBI. He will, in theory, serve ten years if confirmed by the U.S. Senate and will be the first FBI Director appointed after 9/11.

According to the FBI's website, the Director oversees "56 field offices located in major cities throughout the U.S., approximately 380 smaller...resident agencies in cities and towns across the nation, and more than 60 international offices called 'legal attachés' in U.S. embassies worldwide." The Bureau employees almost 36,000 people and has an annual budget of just over $8 billion.

Even without the ongoing national (and international) debates about the U.S. use of torture, indefinite detention and its massive worldwide and domestic surveillance policies in the wake of disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, it seems the oversight hearings for any new FBI Director, which, in this case, would be only the 7th in its history, would be newsworthy.

Given the importance of the role and the enormity of the appointment, especially at this moment in history, the fact that the entirety of MSNBC's primetime line-up seems to have completely ignored those hearings entirely, seems newsworthy as well.

All of that even more so, given the man who was nominated for the job and the extraordinary content of the hearings...

During the three-hour Senate hearing, Comey admitted to having given his approval, during his time as Deputy AG in the Bush Administration, for programs that he felt included torture. Waterboarding, he said on Tuesday, "is torture".

When asked again by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT), "Do you agree that waterboarding is torture and is illegal?," Comey answered directly: "Yes."

Would Comey, as Director of the FBI, investigate and prosecute those who carried out such illegal policies while he reportedly authorized some of them during his years serving in the Bush Administration? It's unclear that anybody asked Comey that question, or that he volunteered as much.

Comey also offered his general approval for the controversial surveillance techniques recently disclosed by Snowden.

"Do you believe the bulk collection of metadata for domestic telephone or emails is appropriate," asked Leahy, "even when the majority of individuals with whom the calls or emails are associated are law-abiding Americans?"

"Senator, I'm not familiar with the details of the current programs," Comey responded. "Obviously, I haven't been cleared for anything like that and I've been out of government for eight years. I do know, as a general matter, that the collection of metadata and analysis of metadata is a valuable tool in counter-terrorism."

These seem to be important matters. It seems remarkable to me that MSNBC has not seen fit to cover them during its most-watched evening hours. That, even though quite a bit of time was spent lauding Comey on the network when the likelihood of his nomination was first leaked at the end of May.

At that point, Rachel Maddow, the titular host of MSNBC's highest-rated program, declared the nomination of Comey to be "a very big, hairy, political deal." She highlighted his infamous 2007 Senate testimony, describing a harrowing turn of events in 2004 when then Deputy AG Comey almost single-handedly stood up to the attempted, late-night hospital room strong-arming of a critically ailing AG John Ashcroft by Bush and his Chief of Staff Andrew Card and his White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez. His actions succeeded in forestalling what is believed to have been a surveillance program that both Comey and Ashcroft felt, at the time, was in violation of the law and/or the U.S. Constitution.

Comey's resolve and courage at the time (and since) has been praised by Democrats as heroic. AP describes Comey's 2007 revelations of the 2004 incident as "stunning". Washington Post's Paul Kane called it "the most riveting 20 minutes of congressional testimony. Maybe ever."

But the Director of the ACLU's Washington Legislative office, Laura Murphy, cautions that "Comey...also approved or defended some of the worst abuses of the Bush administration during his time as deputy attorney general. Those included torture, warrantless wiretapping, and indefinite detention."

I first noticed MSNBC's lack of coverage of Tuesday's hearings when preparing for my Wednesday interview with former FBI Special Agent Coleen Rowley, who served 24 years in the bureau and was lauded for her whistleblowing efforts there after 9/11 as TIME's 2002 Person of the Year.

I found nothing from them on Tuesday night, which was surprising. It's been as surprising ever since, as none of the shows appear to have followed up with any coverage in the ensuing evenings either.

During my interview with Rowley on Pacifica Radio, the long-time FBI veteran expressed great concern about Comey's record and at the lack of tough questions from Senators on the most controversial of issues I've noted above. She had posited 15 of her own such questions in a New York Times op-ed two days before the hearings. On Wednesday, after the hearings, she implored listeners to contact their own Senators about these concerns, to demand better answers to more tough questions. But, of course, how can citizens contact their Senators with concerns if they are not informed about those concerns?

While none of MSNBC's primetime shows appear to have featured even one segment on Tuesday's hearings, either on Tuesday night or Wednesday night or Thursday night, a search of the website for MSNBC's TV side returns just one hit since Tuesday's hearings; an article by Adam Serwer headlined "Obama's pick to head FBI repudiates Bush-era torture". The short written piece also offers an 8-minute video clip of an exchange between Leahy and Comey from the hearings. (I've posted that clip below.)

That's it. Maybe there is more that I was unable to find with a simple search, or maybe there was other coverage on their air that did not get posted to their website. (I am happy to update this post accordingly if so.) A request for comment or explanation for the lack of coverage, sent to the Twitter accounts of Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes and Lawrence O'Donnell, has yet to yield a reply from any of them or from a representative of their respective shows.

[Update 7/15/13: Hayes does not appear to have covered Comey's hearing on his Friday night show either. Maddow was pre-empted by Zimmerman coverage, and O'Donnell doesn't do his show on Friday nights.

Over the weekend, while the marquee MSNBC weekend news shows, several of them two hours long on both Saturday and Sunday, were understandably on the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin beat, they still had time to cover a number of other issues, but none appeared to cover Comey's confirmation hearing for even one minute.

Up with Steve Kornacki had time to cover the political return of Elliot Spitzer, Rand Paul's brand of Republicanism, and what FDR looked like in his wheel chair, among other topics. Melissa Harris Perry covered Spitzer and Anthony Wiener, Edward Snowden's run and even fixing potholes in addition to the Zimmerman trial. The Ed Show reported on the GOP's war on women's rights, Rick Perry's exit as TX Governor and Elizabeth Hasselbeck joining Fox "News". And Disrupt with Karen Finney found time to discuss the ongoing sequester cuts. There was no coverage of the Bush-appointed Obama nominee set to oversee the nation's largest law enforcement agency for the next ten years on the week he spent three-hours in what is likely the only U.S. Senate confirmation hearing he will have before being confirmed as the next FBI Director.]

A search of the website for stories on the Comey hearing fairs slightly better. There is an NBC News article by Tom Curry headlined "FBI nominee Comey explains role in Bush administration decisions on waterboarding", which contains two video clips from the hearing; an AP story by Pete Yost headlined "FBI nominee says surveillance can be valuable tool"; and a Reuters story by Deborah Charles headlined "Nominee for FBI director says waterboarding is torture".

But the reasons for what seems a near complete lack of coverage on their cable television side remains a mystery, even in a week when there is a high-profile murder trial being given hours (and hours) of airtime across the entire network. No time at all for the controversial man who is likely set to run the nation's top law enforcement agency for the next decade? Really?

I have not done a similar search of CNN's coverage or that of Fox "News", so I won't offer comment on their coverage or lack thereof, but it does seem remarkable that at least one entire primetime line-up on one of just three major cable news networks has not, to date, seen fit to cover even one minute of a three-hour hearing on such an important nomination, at such an absolutely crucial moment in our nation's history for that specific nomination and, especially, for the particularly controversial nominee in question.

Maddow was correct to report, last May, that Comey's nomination as the next FBI Director was "a very big, hairy, political deal." It also seems a "very big, hairy deal" that her network, and even her own show, have now seemingly decided to ignore it completely.

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The audio of my interview with FBI whistleblower and 24-year veteran Special Agent Coleen Rowley, recorded live on Wednesday, 7/10/2013 on Pacifica Radio's KPFK, follows below...

Download MP3 or listen online here [appx 36 mins]...

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One exchange posted by MSNBC, between U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and FBI Director nominee James Comey, from his oversight hearing on Tuesday, 7/9/2013, follows below...