Time Demonstrates Media Template on Terrorist Surveillance Program

February 5th, 2006 8:03 AM
The mainstream press absolutely refuses to cast the NSA terrorist surveillance program in anything other than a negative light. The latest example is this piece from Time Magazine. In addition to continued use of the adjective "domestic" when talking about international calls ("U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales speaks about domestic wiretapping policies at Georgetown University"), the article focuses on AG Gonzales' expected testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary committee this coming week.
Specter's hearing, which is scheduled to last most of Monday, will focus on presidential powers in wartime and will examine whether Bush took legal shortcuts in implementing the program, which allows the National Security Agency to monitor communications involving suspected al-Qaeda members if one party to the conversation is inside the U.S. The program began soon after the Sept. 11 attacks and was exposed by the New York Times in December. Since then, lawmakers have complained that the administration's legal arguments are shaky, and have contended that briefings for the House and Senate intelligence committees were inadequate or misleading.
Just looking at that paragraph, there are two items that aren't quite right. In the first place, they talk about monitoring communications "if one party to the conversation is inside the U.S." That's true, but misleading - the vast majority of the communications they're monitoring are taking place with no parties inside the U.S. The question at hand is what happens when one of the parties outside the U.S. communicates with someone inside the U.S.

Secondly, the issue about "lawmakers complain[ing]" is meaninglessly broad. Certainly, SOME lawmakers have complained. Others, such as Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts, who's probably in the best position to know what he's talking about, have said that the President's program is absolutely right. Roberts also believes that the briefings have not been "inadequate or misleading." So they're attributing to all lawmakers what appears to be an uninformed or partisan position.

The hearing is likely to delve into whether the White House considered seeking congressional permission for the program and was rebuffed. That could call into question the Administration argument that the President has the authority under his constitutional powers as commander in chief and under a congressional resolution authorizing military force against terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
If Congress "rebuffed" the President, how does that "call into question" his constitutional authority to authorize the program? That's what this is all going to come down to, in the end, the wrangling over FISA notwithstanding. If the President believes in good faith that his constitutional authority to "be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States" allows this particular action, then Congress' unwillingness to sign off doesn't change that.

The problem with the media coverage is that they've already decided that the President was wrong, the program's illegal, and that every attempt to defend it is just political spin. And that attitude is permeating every piece that gets written on it. Starting with the fact that the mainstream press outlets specifically refuse to call it a "terrorist surveillance program" and still refer to "domestic spying" or "domestic wiretapping."