Friday, July 14, 2006

with friends like Specter and the Washington Post...

This is big, people. Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is the guy who for years had made a big show of holding all sorts of hearings on this or that lawbreaking of the president, from L'Affair Plame to wiretapping, only to completely cave in the end and give the Bush administration everything it wants.

Well, it happened again, this time on domestic wiretapping. After the Supreme Court implicitly rejected W's warrantless wiretapping as illegal and overreaching his authority, Specter, after grandstanding about how he's "going to get to the bottom of this," introduced what the media, including reporters in some of the nation's biggest newspapers, has characterized as a "compromise" between himself and the Bush Administration.

Only it's nothing of the sort. Cue Glenn Greenwald, who's a constitutional law attorney and author of the NYT bestselling How Would a Patriot Act?:
In essence, Specter's bill repeals each and every restriction on the President's ability to eavesdrop, all but forecloses judicial challenges, and endorses the very theory of unlimited executive power which Hamdan just days ago rejected (and in the process, rendered the administration's FISA-prohibited eavesdropping on Americans a clear violation of the criminal law). With this bill, Specter -- the self-proclaimed defender of Congressional power -- did more to bolster the administration's radical executive power theories than anything the administration could have dreamed of doing on their own...

This is truly huge. Remember, abuse of domestic wiretapping is what Nixon was going to be impeached for 30 years ago. It was Watergate that led, ultimately, to Congress' decision to create a FISA court to oversee domestic wiretapping in the first place. It ain't like presidents have been good about keeping their wiretapping clean. And already, rumors abound of the nation's intelligence services being turned on peace activists, environmental groups, and even the Watergate offense, Republicans' political opponents:
However, such details could include politically explosive disclosures that the government has kept tabs on people it shouldn't have been monitoring.

In response, Josh Marshall muses:
It sounds like Landay's pointing to the possibility that the White House has been using the program to monitor political opponents. (I'm not sure how else to interpret that line.) And you get the sense he's doing more than speculating.

What's up with the media's spinning this as some sort of compromise, then? Greenwald has some ideas:
The media's reports on this travesty illustrate, yet again, that the single greatest problem our country faces -- the principal reason the Bush administration has been able to get away with the abuses it has perpetrated -- is because our national media is indescribably lazy, inept, dysfunctional and just plain stupid...

The reporters who write on these matters literally don't understand the issues they are reporting, even though the issues are not all that complicated. Notwithstanding the fact that this bill expressly removes all limits on the President's eavesdropping powers -- and returns the state of the law regarding presidential eavesdropping to the pre-FISA era, when there were no limits on presidential eavesdropping of any kind -- Charles Babington and Peter Baker told their readers in The Washington Post -- in an article hilariously entitled: "Bush Compromises On Spying Program" -- that "the deal represented a clear retreat by Bush" and that "the accord is a reversal of Bush's position that he would not submit his program to court review."

Anyone with a basic understanding of what FISA was and of the conflicts in play could read the Specter bill and see that the last thing it does is entail "compromises" on the part of the White House. Nobody who knows how to read could read that bill and think that. At this point, I believe they don't even read the bill. It's hard to see how they could read the bill and then write that article. Instead, it seems that they just call their standard sources on each side, go with the White House-Specter assessment that this is some grand "compromise" on the ground that it is a joint view of both warring sides, and then throw in a cursory ACLU quote somewhere at the end just to be able to say that they included some opposing views. But the reporters who are writing about this - and I mean the ones writing in the pages of our country's most important newspapers - don't actually have any idea what they're talking about.

Babington is the same reporter who falsely told his readers on the front page of the Post in March that the Republican "compromise" bill from the Senate Intelligence Committee (offered in lieu of an actual investigation into the NSA program) entailed substantial Congressional oversight of the program, even though a quick reading of the actual bill would have revealed that it entailed no such oversight. Representatives from Sen. DeWine and Snowe's office apparently told him what great oversight their bill provided and so he printed as fact what he was told.

After bloggers pointed out this error, the Post, several days later, was forced to issue a correction (appended to the top of the original article). But the same thing that happened there is happening here - Republican Senators and White House representatives with a vested interest in how the story gets reported characterize the bill in a certain way, and then lazy, uninformed reporters like Babington uncritically regurgitate that version as fact in the newspaper.

You gotta wonder what's wrong with these political journalists sometimes. I mean, if you're cutting corners on your job so badly that a segment of your customership decides that they could do your job better than you can (i.e., bloggers, talk radio, etc.), wouldn't you think that you'd, ya know, stop cutting corners? Maybe sit up in your chair, roll up your sleeves, and actually put some real effort in?

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