Editorial boards criticize secret wiretapping authorized by Bush


A review of the Nexis database of major U.S. newspapers -- consisting of 87 publications -- turned up 12 editorials that criticized President Bush's decision to allow secret wiretapping of U.S. citizens without a warrant, and none in support. Only the New York Post, which is not in the "major newspapers" database, wrote in favor of Bush's actions.

Following a report in the December 16 New York Times revealing that President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to conduct wiretaps of U.S. citizens without obtaining a court warrant, a Media Matters for America review of the Nexis major U.S. newspapers database* found 12 editorials critical of Bush's actions. Of those 12 papers, two endorsed Bush for president during the 2004 election, while nine endorsed Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA); one paper, the Los Angeles Times, made no endorsement. Media Matters found one editorial in favor of the secret wiretapping -- News Corp. owner Rupert Murdoch's New York Post, which endorsed Bush and is not included in the Nexis database of major newspapers.

Following are excerpts from major newspaper editorials about the secret wiretaps:

Houston Chronicle (endorsed Bush) December 17:

You can't take your eyes off this crowd for a second. No sooner had President Bush, out of no motivation beyond political necessity, capitulated on the McCain anti-torture proviso than the New York Times reported that for more than three years Bush has authorized warrantless domestic eavesdropping. What will crawl out from under the Oval Office rug next? What constitutional mutation will come to light? What new way will be found to diminish distinctions between a free society and the benighted civilization terrorists want to impose?

Chicago Tribune (endorsed Bush) December 19:

This may also be a violation of American law, which requires that a special court issue warrants for wiretaps on communications originating in the United States. Some officials familiar with the program said it is illegal. But a Justice Department memo took the radical position that the congressional resolution authorizing the president to act against Al Qaeda enabled him to use methods that were previously forbidden.

On Saturday, President Bush strongly defended the program, saying it has "helped detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks" here and abroad.* Had the administration really believed it had congressional consent for spying on Americans at home, it could have asked for legislation to affirm that. It didn't, for the obvious reason that Congress would not have agreed.

The Oregonian (endorsed Kerry), December 17:

No court-ordered warrants for NSA eavesdropping on American soil? If that isn't unconstitutional, it's still an appalling idea.

Newsday (endorsed Kerry), December 17:

The court is readily accessible, able to respond quickly and has granted thousands of warrants over the years. It has, in fact, almost never refused a request. There was no need for an end run around the court and no justification for skirting the law.

The Washington Post (endorsed Kerry), December 18:

Congress must make the administration explain itself. In the aftermath of the revelations, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said hearings on the matter would be a high priority in the coming year. That's good. It should be unthinkable for Congress to acquiesce to such a fundamental change in the law of domestic surveillance, particularly without a substantive account of what the administration is doing and why.

St. Petersburg Times (endorsed Kerry), December 18:

President Bush apparently believes that fighting terrorism justifies any action he chooses, no matter how extralegal. But the United States is a nation of laws, and the president is constrained by them, too. That is why Bush's unilateral authorization granting the National Security Agency the power to wiretap American citizens and others in the United States without a warrant is so dangerously ill-conceived and contrary to this nation's guiding principles.

New York Times (endorsed Kerry), December 18:

Let's be clear about this: illegal government spying on Americans is a violation of individual liberties, whether conditions are troubled or not. Nobody with a real regard for the rule of law and the Constitution would have difficulty seeing that.

Los Angeles Times (no endorsement), December 18:

To the rest of us, the revelation in the New York Times that the National Security Agency has been eavesdropping on people within the United States without judicial warrants was stunning. In one of the more egregious cases of governmental overreach in the aftermath of 9/11, Bush secretly authorized the monitoring, without any judicial oversight, of international phone calls and e-mail messages from the United States.

San Francisco Chronicle (endorsed Kerry) December 19:

The disclosure of unwarranted domestic spying is just as troubling. The law requiring a judge's approval for such inquiries must be followed, not ignored at the president's whim.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (endorsed Kerry), December 18:

The idea that all of this is being done to us in the name of national security doesn't wash; that is the language of a police state. Those are the unacceptable actions of a police state.

Philadelphia Daily News (endorsed Kerry), December 19:

With the revelation last week that President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to secretly eavesdrop on hundreds, perhaps thousands of Americans -- without bothering to obtain the proper court orders -- it's clear now that this administration cannot be trusted to protect our civil liberties.

The Miami Herald (endorsed Kerry), December 19:

In the 1970s, when word got out that the federal government was spying on its own citizens, there was such an outcry that Congress severely restricted the practice, and the agency involved virtually stopped doing it altogether. Congress made the right call then by passing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Now, Congress should move quickly to curtail a renewal of the practice, which is being done this time in the name of fighting terrorists.

New York Post (endorsed Bush) December 19:

President Bush, to his credit, neither apologized for the program nor said he would abandon it. Indeed, he said he has reauthorized the program some 30 times since 9/11, and intends to do so "as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from al Qaeda and related groups."

* Based on a Nexis search of major newspapers for editorial and (wiretap! or spy! or surveillance! or NSA or FISA or eavesdrop! or monitor!).


Correction: The original version of this item inadvertently omitted a sentence from the Chicago Tribune editorial excerpt without noting it. Media Matters for America regrets the omission.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Domestic Spying
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