Friday, December 23, 2005
More Sunstein on surveillance: Radioblogger has a transcript of University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein on Hugh Hewitt's radio show. The entire thing is well worth reading if you didn't hear it on the radio. I've never before found myself continually nodding in agreement when I read what Sunstein said.
I'd like to point out a couple of things from the Sunstein interview with regards to the media.
Hugh Hewitt: Do you consider the quality of the media coverage here to be good, bad, or in between?
Cass Sunstein: Pretty bad, and I think the reason is we're seeing a kind of libertarian panic a little bit, where what seems at first glance...this might be proved wrong...but where what seems at first glance a pretty modest program is being described as a kind of universal wiretapping, and also being described as depending on a wild claim of presidential authority, which the president, to his credit, has not made any such wild claim. The claims are actually fairly modest, and not unconventional. So the problem with what we've seen from the media is treating this as much more peculiar, and much larger than it actually is. As I recall, by the way, I was quoted in the Los Angeles Times, and they did say that in at least one person's view, the authorization to use military force probably was adequate here.
HH: Do you think the media simply does not understand? Or are they being purposefully ill-informed in your view?
CS: You know what I think it is? It's kind of an echo of Watergate. So when the word wiretapping comes out, a lot of people get really nervous and think this is a rerun of Watergate. I also think there are two different ideas going on here. One is skepticism on the part of many members of the media about judgments by President Bush that threaten, in their view, civil liberties. So it's like they see President Bush and civil liberties, and they get a little more reflexively skeptical than maybe the individual issue warrants. So there's that. Plus, there's, I think, a kind of bipartisan...in the American culture, including the media, streak that is very nervous about intruding on telephone calls and e-mails. And that, in many ways, is healthy. But it can create a misunderstanding of a particular situation.
So, in about three to four months we should get some sane and responsible media coverage on this issue, that seems to be the pattern lately if we go by the Hurricane Katrina model. In the immediate aftermath of the hurricane that hit Mississippi and Louisiana earlier this year, the media peddled horror story after horror story: Dozens of bodies in freezers, ten thousand dead, ad infinitum, ad absurdum. It's only recently that several newspapers (TV typically doesn't do a very good job of corrective reporting) have been correcting the record. Most recently, the Los Angeles Times reported that this was one of the few occasions where it wasn't "minorities hardest hit."
Other than the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, I can't name a single mainstream media publication that has done a responsible, accurate reporting job on this issue. It really is appalling.
The Department of Justice released this letter [PDF format] yesterday containing a legal analysis for the surveillance program in a belated attempt to push back against the media and Democrat hysteria. (This should've come out last weekend and I don't care if the lawyers had to work a long weekend.)
Why has this happened? Well, unfortunately most newspapers in the United States, on issues like this one, depend on the New York Times News Service, The Washington Post's wire service and the Associated Press for their reporting. In this case, those three have acted in such a groupthink/lockstep manner that the truth isn't getting out. I can't tell you how many times I've shaken my head after reading a story on this issue and thought: "If they just read a few blogs and talked to a few credible legal experts, they could get this story right."
Journalism's wounds are self-inflicted.