Matthews: Phone Data Leak 'Hurts President Far More' than Terrorist Surveillance Program
One thing is certain: the people within the government leaking the existence of secret anti-terror programs to the press are trying to hurt the president politically. Chris Matthews believes they have been more successful in achieving that goal with the recent leak of the phone data collection program than they were with the terrorist surveillance program leak.
On this morning's Today show, Matt Lauer asked Matthews: "Will there be a huge political fallout? Americans are evenly split on the domestic program [i.e., the terrorist surveillance progam]. Do you see this as the same situation?"
"No. Nobody can imagine being on the telephone with an Al Qaeda agent but they can imagine privacy matters.
"The government isn't attempting to get a few numbers. They want all phone calls made, when they were made, how long they were. Lots of information on personal relationships. I imagine people thinking 'I make certain phone calls I don't want anyone to know about.' Now the government knows about them. To answer your first question this hurts the president far more because it gets into peoples' private lives in the way the other one didn't."
Maybe I'm just suffering from a surfeit of clean conscience, but my gut tells me Matthews is wrong. The key fact here is that, as far as we know, no phone calls were listened to or recorded pursuant to this program. Yes, I understand there would be people concerned that the government is aware that they were repeatedly calling, e.g., escort services, mistresses, employment agencies or even pizza parlors. But unless and until there is any indication that the government has been using or disclosing any such information other than for anti-terror purposes, I don't believe many Americans will be outraged. To the contrary, don't we want our anti-terror team to be looking for suspicious calling patterns? And how could there be specific warrants sought when we are sifting millions of calls looking not for individuals but for patterns?
As more facts emerge about what the program is and isn't, the political impact of this latest revelation will become clearer. But for the time being, Matthews' prediction of serious political consequences for President Bush strikes me as a bit of wishful thinking on his part.
Finkelstein, recently a guest on the Lars Larson show, lives in the liberal haven of Ithaca, NY, where he hosts the award-winning public-access TV show 'Right Angle'. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org