Time magazine invents facts to claim that Americans support Bush's domestic spying abuses
March 17, 2008
No matter how corrupt and sloppy the establishment press becomes, they always find a way to go lower. Time Magazine has just published what it purports to be a news article by Massimo Calabresi claiming that "nobody cares" about the countless abuses of spying powers by the Bush administration; that "Americans are ready to trade diminished privacy, and protection from search and seizure, in exchange for the promise of increased protection of their physical security"; and that the case against unchecked government surveillance powers "hasn't convinced the people." Not a single fact -- not one -- is cited to support these sweeping, false opinions.
Worse still -- way worse -- this "news article" decrees the Bush administration to be completely innocent, even well-motivated, even in those instances where technical, irrelevant lawbreaking has been found, as it proclaims:
In all the examples of diminished civil liberties, there are few, if any, where the motivating factor was something other than law and order or national security.
Does Calabresi or his Time editors have the slightest idea how secret, illegal spying powers have been used, towards what ends they've been employed and with what motives? No, they have absolutely no idea. Not even members of Congressional Intelligence Committees know because the Bush administration has kept all of that concealed. So Time just makes up facts to defend the Bush administration with wholly baseless statements that one would expect to come pouring out of the mouths only of Dana Perino and Bill Kristol -- the "motivating factor" for secret, illegal spying was nothing "other than law and order or national security."
This article literally has more factual errors -- pure, retraction-level falsehoods -- than it has paragraphs. It makes Joe Klein look like a knowledgable and conscientious surveillance expert. It's one of the most falsehood-plagued articles I've seen in quite some time. Let's just count the ways this article includes demonstrably false assertions, purely based on facts:
(1) Time claims that "nobody cares" about the Government's increased spying powers and that "polling consistently supports that conclusion." They don't cite a single poll because that assertion is blatantly false.
Just this weekend, a new poll released by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University proves that exactly the opposite is true. That poll shows that the percentage of Americans who believe the Federal Government is "very secretive" has doubled in the last two years alone (to 44%) and that "nearly nine in 10 say it's important to know presidential and congressional candidates' positions on open government when deciding who to vote for."
The same poll also found that 77% of Americans believe that
The proposition that "polls consistently" find that Americans don't mind incursions into their civil liberties is a rank falsehood. From a December, 2005 CNN poll, days after the NSA scandal was first disclosed: Nearly two-thirds said they are not willing to sacrifice civil liberties to prevent terrorism, as compared to 49 percent saying so in 2002.
More importantly, ever since it was revealed that the Bush administration has been spying on Americans without the warrants required by law, polls have consistently shown that huge numbers of Americans -- usually majorities -- oppose warrantless spying, exactly the opposite of what Time just claimed.
Much of the polling on warrantless eavesdropping occurred throughout 2006 when the NSA scandal was being debated. Here's what a Quinnipiac poll concluded:
By a 76-19 percent margin, American voters say the government should continue monitoring phone calls or e-mail between suspected terrorists in other countries and people in the U.S., according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today. But voters say 55-42 percent that the government should get court orders for this surveillance.
Voters in "purple states," 12 states in which there was a popular vote margin of 5 percentage points or less in the 2004 Presidential election, plus Missouri, considered the most accurate barometer of Presidential voting, want wiretap warrants 57 - 39 percent.
Red states, where President George W. Bush's margin was more than 5 percent in 2004, disagree 51 - 46 percent with the President that the government does not need warrants. Blue state voters who backed John Kerry by more than 5 percent want warrants 57 - 40 percent, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll finds.
A total of 57 percent of voters are "extremely" or "quite" worried that phone and e-mail taps without warrants could be misused to violate people's privacy. But 54 percent believe these taps have prevented some acts of terror.
From the beginning, pluralities in the vast majority of states -- 37 out of 50 -- believed the President "clearly" broke the law with his NSA spying. A CBS poll (.pdf) found that Americans believe (51-43%) that "the President does not have the legal authority to authorize wiretapes without a warrant to fight terrorism." And back when Russ Feingold introduced his resolution to censure the President for breaking the law in spying on Americans, a plurality of Americans supported censure of Bush despite the fact that Feingold was virtually alone among political figures in advocating it. And most Americans opposed immunity for telecoms accused of breaking the law in how they spied on Americans:
Opposition to immunity is widespread, cutting across ideology and geography. Majorities of liberals, moderates, and conservatives agree that courts should decide the outcomes of these legal actions (liberals: 64% let courts decide, 26% give immunity; moderates: 58% let courts decide, 34% give immunity; conservatives: 50% let courts decide, 38% give immunity).
As is so often true, the facts are exactly the opposite of what Time, in defending the Bush administration, tells its readers. Can one find polls in which pluralites of Americans support warrantless eavesdropping and other secret spying programs? If one looks hard enough for polls emphasizing "spying on terrorists," perhaps one can, but Time's assertion that "polling consistently supports the conclusion" that Americans want to give up civil liberties for security is patently false.
Even when the White House, the FBI or the intelligence agencies have acted outside of laws protecting those rights -- such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act -- the public has by and large shrugged and, through their elected representatives, suggested changing the laws to accommodate activities that may be in breach of them.
Have Calabresi and his editors been on vacation for the last four months? During that time, there has been a protracted, bitter debate in Congress over the President's demands for permanent, warrantless eavesdropping powers and amnesty for telecoms which broke the law in spying on Americans. It provoked filibusters and all sorts of obstructionism in the Senate, and House Democrats -- including virtually every conservative "Blue Dog" -- just chose warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty as the issue on which to defy, for the first time ever, the President's national security orders.
Additionally, while it is true that the GOP-led Congress largely endorsed every one of the President's policies, including his lawbreaking, the American voting public threw the Republicans out of power in 2006. When Democrats, once in power, began copying their behavior in endorsing even the President's illegal behavior, their approval ratings plummeted. Just last week, they refused to give legal sanction to the President's illegal spying; demanded that the lawsuits arising from that spying proceed; and even passed a bill requiring a full-scale investigation into what the President did when spying on Americans for all those years. These events were bizarrely ignored by Time because they negate the narrative they want to push.
(3) Time's defense of the Bush administration -- that "law and order or national security" has motivated even the illegal spying -- is perhaps most indefensible of all. The administration has blocked every Congressional and judicial attempt to investigate how it has used these spying powers. Thus, nobody has any idea what has motivated the spying or what the level of abuse is.
As Julian Sanchez wrote in a superb Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times this weekend, the Federal Government abused its warrantless spying power for decades -- to spy on political opponents and other dissidents -- but nobody had any idea that was going on until the Church Committee conducted a full-fledged investigation. As Sanchez wrote:
If you think an executive branch unchecked by courts won't turn its "national security" surveillance powers to political ends -- well, it would be a first.
We have had no investigation into how the Bush administration has used these spying powers. There has been no Church Committee, no intensive media investigation, no judicial process. The only "investigations" into any of these surveillance activities has come from the executive branch itself. All we have are slothful, government-worshiping reporters like Calabresi and Time editors who sit back content in their own ignorance, having no idea how the Bush administration used its spying powers, citing their own total ignorance as proof that the Government did nothing wrong -- they did everything for our own Good, for our Protection.
Time's vouching for the Good Motives of the Bush administration is completely false for a separate reason. Even with as little as we know about what they've done, there most certainly are examples of politically-motivated spying, even though Calabresi and his editors are apparently unaware of them. From Democracy Now in 2006:
Earlier this week, the Service members Legal Defense Network released documents showing that the Pentagon conducted surveillance on a more extensive level than first reported late last year. De-classified documents show that the agency spied on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell' protests and anti-war protests at several universities around the country. They also show that the government monitored student e-mails and planted undercover agents at least one protest.
But the Pentagon has not released all information on its surveillance activities. The American Civil Liberties Union recently filed a federal lawsuit to force the agency to turn over additional records. The lawsuit charges that the Pentagon is refusing to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests seeking records on the ACLU, the American Friends Service Committee, Greenpeace, Veterans for Peace and United for Peace and Justice, as well as 26 local groups and activists.
A year ago, at a Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth, Fla., a small group of activists met to plan a protest of military recruiting at local high schools. What they didn't know was that their meeting had come to the attention of the U.S. military.
A secret 400-page Defense Department document obtained by NBC News lists the Lake Worth meeting as a "threat" and one of more than 1,500 "suspicious incidents" across the country over a recent 10-month period. . . .
The Defense Department document is the first inside look at how the U.S. military has stepped up intelligence collection inside this country since 9/11, which now includes the monitoring of peaceful anti-war and counter-military recruitment groups.
Are Time reporters and editors just blissfully ignorant of these incidents or do they conceal them because they negate their clean, crisp storyline?
(4) The whole Time article is based upon one of the most pervasive journalistic fallacies: namely, that the choices the establishment press makes as to what they will cover and not cover is reflective of what "Americans" generally care about. Thus, Calabresi begins the article by listing a whole series of recent revelations about the Bush administration's ever-increasing Surveillance State powers and abuses and concludes: "to judge from the reaction in the country, nobody cares."
But the only ones who "don't care" are establishment media outlets like Time, not the "ordinary Americans" on whose behalf they always fantasize that they speak. It's the media that has ignored those stories.
Here is a Nexus count of how much media coverage certain stories have received over the last 30 days, including the Surveillance State stories which Calabresi cites as proof that Americans don't care about their constitutional liberties:
* "Spitzer and prostitutes" -- 2,323 results
* "Spitzer and Kristen" -- 1,087 results
* "Obama and Rezk" -- 1,263 results
* "Obama and Jeremiah Wright" -- 466 results
* "Wall Street Journal and data mining" -- 9 results
* "FBI and National security letters" -- 149 results
* "Intelligence Oversight Board" -- 21 results
This is what establishment journalists like Calabresi always do. Their industry obsesses on the most vapid, inconsequential chatter. They ignore the stories that actually matter. And then they claim that Americans only care about vapid gossip and not substantive issues -- and point to their own shallow coverage decisions as "proof" of what Americans care about. ...
The Time Magazines of the world ignore stories about Bush's abuses of spying powers. Therefore, Americans don't care about such abuses. That's the self-referential, self-loving rationale on which this entire article is based. And the whole article is filled with demonstrable falsehoods, all in service of arguing that the Bush administration has done nothing wrong, and even if they did, Americans don't mind at all.
UPDATE: Yet another serious factual error in Calabresi's article that I neglected to mention:
There are no scandalous examples of the White House using the Patriot Act powers for political purposes or of individual agents using them for personal gain.
Has Time ever heard of the U.S. Attorneys scandal, which just resulted in the filing of a Congressional lawsuit to compel recalcitrant Bush aides to comply with Subpoenas? From Harper's Scott Horton on Saturday:
This was largely part of an effort to disguise the obvious fact that the dismissals were the implementation of a political plan which had been formulated in the White House, largely under the guidance of Karl Rove.
They were also designed to disguise the fact that an elaborate scheme had been concocted to circumvent the process through which candidates are reviewed and confirmed by the Senate using a secret amendment to the USA PATRIOT Act.
It's not surprising that this scandal would be whitewashed from the pages of Time, in light of what its Managing Editor, Rick Stengel, decreed last year while on The Chris Matthews Show:
Mr. STENGEL: I am so uninterested in the Democrats wanting Karl Rove, because it is so bad for them. Because it shows business as usual, tit for tat, vengeance. That's not what voters want to see.
MATTHEWS: So instead of like an issue like the war where you can say it's bigger than all of us, its more important than politics, this is politics.
Mr. STENGEL: Yes, and it's much less. It's small bore politics.
The principal theme of Time Magazine appears to be that corruption and even blatant lawbreaking by the Bush administration is a total non-story, something that nobody cares about and therefore shouldn't be investigated or reported (Joe Klein's first reaction in Time following disclosure of the NSA scandal was to defend the lawbreaking and sternly warn Nancy Pelosi and Democrats generally that they had better not object to the warrantless spying program or else they would be (justifiably) out of power forever).
Identically, Calabresi's declaration that the FBI's unquestionably illegal use of NSL powers under the Patriot Act was harmless and benign because the Bush DOJ said so is equally gullible and dishonest. As Patrick Meighan pointed out in comments:
In other words, we know that the Justice Department has not intentionally abused its unchecked investigative powers because the Justice Department looked at the Justice Department and decided that the Justice Department did not intentionally abuse its unchecked investigative powers.
In 2008, that's what's supposed to pass for checks and balances.
It is not surprising that this is the view of Bush followers, but it's also the predominant view of our ornery watchdog journalists as well. The Founders envisioned that the media would be the watchdog over government deceit and corruption, but nobody is more aggressive in dismissing concerns of government lawbreaking and deceit than the Time Magazines of our country. That's their primary function.