Saturday, July 07, 2007

Media's Domestic Lying Program Still Going Strong

Lately I keep having a recurring dream in which I pick up my local newspaper and read a headline like: “Americans Fear Lack of Government Snooping on Terrorists Will Lead to Some of Us Getting Blown Up”. Then beneath this lengthy headline I am treated to an incisive and well-written analysis of how many Americans find “troubling” or “disturbing” that their government is carelessly neglecting, or even resisting, making an effort needed to hunt down, infiltrate, and intercept, some very determined bad guys who want us all dead.

The article goes on to describe how, in response to this trend of citizen anger, the government begins to wake up and get serious about hunting down the bad guys, aggressively, without putting theoretical worries about terrorists' civil rights above the rights and lives of our own citizens.

Then I always wake up laughing at such a ridiciuous a dream. Even if such a thing ever happened, (it just might after our next 9/11), the papers wouldn't report it.

What I find in the real, waking world are articles like today’s “Court ruling stirs fear of secret spying”, on the front page of the Detroit News.

The article, by the News's Muslim Affairs correspondent Gregg Krupa, reports dismayed reactions to yesterday’s ruling from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the one that reversed the awful decision of US District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor that ordered an injunction against the NSA’s Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP). According to the article no one was happy about the ruling except some joker from the Department of Justice. No one from the News asked me if I liked it. I did like it. I liked it a lot.

Anyhow, instead of waking up to my dream article where everybody is worried that we aren't connecting the dots, I see just another story about how our civil rights are more threatened by Dick Cheney than by those guys with their suicide belts and their Korans. And the dots just go unconnected.

The people who control the American press, who are primarily liberals, and either ideologically committed to resisting anti-jihadist activities, or else just terrified of being called Islamophobic, are never going to report on this story fairly. They did not approve of the TSP from the outset, they consistently misreported the facts about it, and they always refer to the program, falsely, as a “domestic spying program.” And even though they knew Judge Taylor’s opinion was bad law, badly written, and certainly doomed to be overturned on appeal, (as it was yesterday), they felt they had to sign on to it as a blow for freedom and the First Amendment.

And now that it's been reversed by grown-up judges, the reporters have to defend it.

The truth is that the TSP, besides being a great idea, only ever monitored international communications, that is, communications to people outside the US, or calling or emailing into the US from foreign soil. There is nothing “domestic” about the program. Even all those critics unwittingly admitted as much when they kept insisting the TSP needed to be brought under the control of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act: FISA deals exclusively with the gathering of foreign intelligence.

But has this ever stopped journalists from referring to the TSP as a “domestic spying program”? Or one that is targeted at “secret spying on citizens”? No, because such statements are inflammatory, and help create more enemies for George W. Bush.

Now Mr. Krupa shows he’s willing to get it all wrong, too, when he writes, (wrongly), that even the administration itself has come clean about all its unlawful domestic spying. Writes Krupa, “In several public statements, administration officials have said that the president has the right to order secret spying on citizens.”

Strangely, Mr. Krupa nowhere cites even one of the occasions of these alleged statements, nor who exactly was supposed to have made them.

I’ve followed this issue more closely that the average person, and I haven't heard about any such public statements by the administration--any statements that parrot, as Mr. Krupa parrots here, the left’s caricature of the TSP as the President having an unlimited “right to order secret spying on citizens.”

Rather, the administration’s statements on the TSP have been many, and are consistent.

For instance, on January 12, 2005 Alberto Gonzales said the following at a press conference:

"The President has authorized a program to engage in electronic surveillance of a particular kind, and this would be the intercepts of contents of communications where one of the -- one party to the communication is outside the United States. And this is a very important point -- people are running around saying that the United States is somehow spying on American citizens calling their neighbors. Very, very important to understand that one party to the communication has to be outside the United States.

"Another very important point to remember is that we have to have a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication is a member of al Qaeda, affiliated with al Qaeda, or a member of an organization affiliated with al Qaeda, or working in support of al Qaeda."

Almost two year laters, on January 17th of this year, Gonzales’s letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee explained that the TSP was now being conducted under an authorization from the FISA court, re-iterating that the court order authorizes “the Government to target for collection international communications into or out of the United States where there is probable cause to believe that one of the communicants is a member of agent of al Qaeda or an associated terrorist organization.”

Does that sound like an administration official claiming the "president has the right to order secret spying on citizens"?

The media’s repeated insinuation, including Mr. Krupa’s here, that the targets of the TSP surveillance are innocent US citizens, can only be intended to mislead the lazy readers, or the busy readers--that is, the average readers who make no effort to look beyond what they see in the paper--to believe that Gonzales, or other high administration officials, have on several occasions gone on record saying, “Shucks, now that you mention it, we are spying on innocent US citizens! And you know what else? We don’t care who knows it! Hissss!”

I can't believe any more that this kind of misleading writing is the result of journalistic accident or laziness. It is too much of a pattern. It is meant to disinform.

Another example is Mr. Krupa’s mischaracterization in today's article of why the plaintiffs lacked supporting evidence, in the form of information gathered by NSA surveillance, a lack of evidence which helped lead to dismissal of the ACLU case.

According to Mr. Krupa, “The administration's refusal to reveal information about the program was one reason the plaintiffs could not proceed, both judges said.”

Bunk. It isn’t true; not even close.

Neither judge said anything of the kind. What the judges stated, and explained in their opinions, was that any information obtained through TSP surveillance was privileged under the State Secrets Doctrine, which was invoked at the very beginning of the case by the NSA. The opinion makes clear that the ACLU and their co-plaintiffs did not even raise the issue of the NSA’s invocation of the State Secrets Doctrine in their appeal: even the ACLU wasn’t stupid enough to demand public release of secret NSA information on terrorists obtained through surveillance.

Yet Mr. Krupa writes as if to suggest that the Bush administration was asked for the information, and then stonewalled the court by “refusing” to turn it over.

This kind of thing is meant to create the impression that the ACLU case was dismissed unfairly as a result of the the White House's somehow cheating the plaintiffs and the judicial process by holding back information.

That, and Mr. Krupa, I'm afraid, is hoping to suggest a parallel with the collateral mythology of the President "defying" the US Congress in their endless demands for White House documents and testimony so Schumer and Conyers can "get to the bottom of" the Iraq war, or the firing of the US Attorneys, or the "illegal" domestic spying program of the NSA, etc,. etc., etc.

The First Amendment guarantee of a free press provides that newspapers have the right to engage in a certain amount of lying, especially if the lies are about public figures.

I'm not planning to sue anyone over it.

But I don't have to like it.

And I don't like it. I don't like it a lot.

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