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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The NYT, WP and Time all report the Specter bill as the opposite of what it is

The moderate-to-conservative Editorial Page of The Washington Post today appears to directly criticize the Post's own news article from yesterday, by Charles Babington and Peter Baker, which ludicrously reported that the Specter bill constituted a "concession" and a "clear retreat" by the Bush administration. The Post's Op-Ed points out:

SENATE JUDICIARY Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has cast his agreement with the White House on legislation concerning the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance as a compromise -- one in which President Bush accepts judicial review of the program. It isn't a compromise, except quite dramatically on the senator's part. Mr. Specter's bill began as a flawed but well-intentioned effort to get the program in front of the courts, but it has been turned into a green light for domestic spying. It must not pass. . . .

This bill is not a compromise but a full-fledged capitulation on the part of the legislative branch to executive claims of power. Mr. Specter has not been briefed on the NSA's program. Yet he's proposing revolutionary changes to the very fiber of the law of domestic surveillance -- changes not advocated by key legislators who have detailed knowledge of the program. This week a remarkable congressional debate began on how terrorists should face trial, with Congress finally asserting its role in reining in overbroad assertions of presidential power. What a tragedy it would be if at the same time, it acceded to those powers on the fundamental rights of Americans.

It wasn't just the Post which fundamentally misled its readers about this bill. So, too, did Eric Lichtblau in his article in The New York Times ("The proposed legislation represents a middle-ground approach among the myriad proposals in Congress for dealing with the wiretapping controversy"). But in the department of factually false stories, both the NYT and the Post were completely outdone by this indescribably ridiculous Time Magazine article (h/t A.L.), which depicts Arlen Specter as a crusading warrior who resolutely refused to back down and who thereby forced the White House to accede to his demands (his "demands" apparently being that the White House allow him to write a law that would render the President's illegal eavesdropping program legal, and which would remove any and all Congressional limitations in the future on the President's power to eavesdrop on Americans -- boy, that Specter drives a hard bargain).

By contrast, conservative bloggers and liberal bloggers alike immediately recognized that the Specter bill is a complete capitulation to the Bush administration, something which gives the White House everything it could possibly want and more. And yet journalists who write for the nation's most influential newspapers and magazines reported the bill as being the opposite of what it really is, and in the process, completely skewed the public debate over this critically important matter -- perhaps irreversibly -- by hopelessly clouding the real issues it raises.

I'm not one of those who believe that blogs have replaced or can replace major journalistic outlets for the gathering of news. The vast resources of those organizations are still necessary for news gathering. But when it comes to understanding, analyzing and interpreting political and world events, there is very little competition, in my view, between the blogosphere and traditional media outlets. Most celebrated journalists yesterday were spewing the plainly false view that the Specter bill constituted a capitulation by the White House, while bloggers immediately recognized that the opposite was true.

That is why, with rare exception, if I read only blogs but no established media outlets for news analysis, I feel I would be missing nothing. But if I read only established media outlets but no blogs, I would feel that I was operating in the dark.

A reader of this blog sent an e-mail yesterday to the Post's Charles Babington pointing out the grossly misleading nature of his article, and Babington petulantly replied as follows:

From: Chuck Babington <xxxxxxxx@washpost.com>

To: XXXXXX <xxxxxxx@mac.com>

Date: Fri Jul 14, 2006 10:48:26 AM CDT

Subject: Re: Message via washingtonpost.com: Specter Bill

I read the bill. Can you cite a single inaccuracy? Here's my guess: You read neither the bill nor the entire story.

That's how Babington -- after writing a story which conveyed the opposite of reality -- responded to a reader who complained. He condescendingly accused the reader of not having read the bill and/or the article. I was going to e-mail Babington today to highlight for him the patent inaccuracies in his article, but his own newspaper's Editorial Page today already did so.

Our democracy relies upon the media to inform Americans as to what their Government is doing, most particularly to inform them of inaccuracies in claims made by political officials. When, instead, journalists are manipulated by self-interested politicians into conveying fantasy and propaganda rather than reality ("the White House makes major compromises on eavesdropping!"), the damage to our democracy's ability to have meaningful public debates really is immeasurable.

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