Domestic Dishonesty -- the Press, Polls, and NSA "Wiretaps"

[This article was reprinted at length and with favor in "Inside Politics" in the Washington Times today (Thursday).]

A poll by Rasmussen Reports today (Wednesday) illustrates the pervasive dishonesty of the American press in dealing with the NY Times story about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) intercepts of international communications. There are both minor dishonesties and major ones in this story as first reported by the Times and later a gaggle of reports throughout the media.


The major dishonesties are demonstrated by the two questions asked in the Rasmussen poll just reported. Here’s the first, and the responses:

Should the National Security Agency be allowed to intercept telephone conversations between terrorism suspects in other countries and people living in the United States? Yes 64% No 23%
The key fact is that these conversations cross international boundaries. Many parts of the MSM persist in calling this “domestic” spying. This is a lie. These calls are international, not domestic.

Here’s the second question and the responses:

Is President Bush the first President to authorize a program for intercepting telephone conversations between terrorism suspects in other countries and people living in the United States? Yes 26% No 48%

Answers to the second question are particularly telling. Even though most of the media and all of the Democrat leaders in Congress are suggesting that these intercepts are new and unjustified by President Bush, 48% of those polled do NOT believe that Bush is the first President to authorize such efforts.

Next, the minor dishonesties: The press persist in calling these “wiretaps,” whereas they are actually electronic intercepts made by satellites and other international methods I won’t mention here. Fox News contributed mightily to this misconception by using a graphic of someone attaching a clip and wire to a telephone junction box. That image repeated the lie that these are physical intercepts within the US.

Other minor lies include the idea that this is new. The blogosphere has thoroughly reported the Executive Orders of both President Carter and President Clinton, approving such intelligence efforts, and the five court decisions approving such efforts, one by the Supreme Court and one by the FISA Court itself. Note the wide coverage of Judge Robertson who resigned from the FISA Court, but not from the federal bench, while failing to report his highly partisan history and the fact that the whole FISA Court disagrees with his opinion. Judge Robertson was appointed by President Clinton, and is known for dismissing without trial a number of charges against Clinton Administration officials.

It is impressive that a majority of the American people understand this issue correctly, in the teeth of pervasive dishonesty by the press in covering this story. If the story were reported honestly, opposition to these efforts by President Bush in this war would probably decline to a number amounting to the NY Times, its reporters, its editors, and its unreconstructed readers.

John_Armor@aya.yale.edu