December 21, 2005
NSA Eavesdropping and Media Double StandardsBy Noel Sheppard
There's an old saying: What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. When it comes to mainstream media reporting, nothing could be further from the truth.
No finer example of a media double standard has been recently evident than in the furor that has evolved over revelations of National Security Agency eavesdropping. To be more precise, the press response to The New York Times report on this subject last Friday is in stark contract to how they reacted in the '90s when the Clinton administration was found to be engaging in extraordinarily similar activities.
A perfect example surfaced in a Washington Post article written yesterday by Charles Lane. In it, Lane referred to changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act under former President Clinton after the Aldrich Ames affair. For those unfamiliar, Ames was a CIA agent that was convicted in 1994 of working for the former Soviet Union:
The Post failed to make clear a number of key points:
Yet, there was little media coverage or outrage about this at the time. In fact, Byron York reported yesterday at the National Review that the Washington Post ran a story on this subject on July 15, 1994 entitled 'Administration Backing No—Warrant Spy Searches':
As this 1994 article buried on page A19 continued — that's right, this wasn't even front—page news! — Post writer Jeffrey Smith referred to these searches in an offhand manner quite different from the press evisceration of President Bush today for instructing the NSA to listen in on international calls either from or to known members of al Qaeda:
Imagine that. 'A goal of such vital national security interest that [government officials] said it justified extraordinary police powers.' And this was more than seven years before al Qaeda terrorists killed almost 3,000 innocent Americans on 9/11. Isn't protecting the nation from further terrorist attacks at least as important as identifying a mole within the CIA working for a country that no longer exists or represents a threat to national security?
The Washington Post apparently doesn't think so. Nor does the media outlet that began this whole controversy, The New York Times.
Regardless, according to a LexisNexis search, The New York Times didn't run one article concerning the proposed changes to FISA, or the Senate hearings regarding this matter in July 1994. Aside from the Washington Post, neither did any of the other mainstream media outlets. Not one.
I guess the media are much less concerned with government intrusions upon civil liberties when a Democrat is in the White House.
By contrast, The Christian Science Monitor offered an opinion concerning this issue on August 31, 1994:
The Monitor made it clear that the Ames case had a huge impact on changes to FISA:
The Monitor also quoted former deputy attorney general Jamie Gorelick as being in support of these warrantless searches:
Gorelick's statement eleven years ago sounds a lot like what President Bush said during his press conference this past Monday:
This of course raises an obvious question: If the media weren't concerned with former President Clinton authorizing warrantless break—ins to the homes of suspected spies after the end of the Cold War, why are they so outraged by the same government body listening in to international phone calls from or to known members of America's sworn enemy, al Qaeda?
Noel Sheppard is an economist, business owner, and contributing writer to the Free Market Project. He is also contributing editor for the Media Research Center's NewsBusters.org. Noel welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.