NY Times mischaracterized GOP eavesdropping measure

››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER

A New York Times article adopted House Republicans' characterization of their proposed measure to revise the RESTORE Act, a bill amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The article claimed that "on its face," the measure "asked lawmakers to declare where they stood on stopping Osama bin Laden from attacking the United States again." In fact, the measure would have exempted the president from requirements of the bill as long as he claimed to be acting to protect the country from attack.

Reporting that House Republicans "used a parliamentary maneuver to scuttle a vote" on the RESTORE Act, a bill aimed at amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), an October 18 New York Times article adopted the House Republicans' characterization of their proposed measure, claiming that "on its face," it "asked lawmakers to declare where they stood on stopping Osama bin Laden from attacking the United States again." In fact, the proposed Republican measure neither "on its face" asked lawmakers to make such a declaration, nor would have had that effect. According to House chief deputy minority whip Eric Cantor (R-VA), the measure would have "clarif[ied] that nothing in the bill [to amend FISA] 'shall be construed to prohibit the intelligence community from conducting surveillance needed to prevent Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, or any other foreign terrorist organization ... from attacking the United States or any United States person.' " In other words, the measure (to use the Times' language) "asked lawmakers to declare where they stood" on exempting the president from the requirements of the bill as long as he takes the position he is acting to protect the United States from attack.

The article's assertion that the measure would have forced a declaration on the part of lawmakers of where they stood on "stopping Osama bin Laden from attacking the United States again" echoes Cantor's own rhetoric about the measure. Of the measure he planned to introduce, Cantor wrote: "[L]et's put all Members of Congress on the record -- which do they care more about, pleasing their Moveon.org liberal base or making sure America is safe and secure?" He later wrote that Democrats are "so desperately against allowing our intelligence agencies to fight OBL [Osama Bin Laden] and AQ [Al Qaeda] that they pulled the entire bill to prevent a vote" on the measure. The Times' assertion also echoes what supporters of the president have said about opponents of his warrantless domestic spying program. Similar to The New York Times' characterization of the measure as being about one's position on stopping terrorism -- and similar to Cantor's reference to the Democrats' "desperate[]" efforts "against allowing our intelligence agencies to fight OBL" -- Bush supporters have accused opponents of the warrantless surveillance program of wanting to prevent the administration from spying on terrorists. In fact, like the opponents of the Cantor measure, opponents of the president's program presumably want to ensure that the U.S. Code and the Constitution govern the president's actions, and not his own virtually unfettered discretion.

Media Matters for America has documented a number of instances in which media outlets have uncritically reported Republican allegations that critics of the president oppose eavesdropping on terrorists, or have asserted so themselves.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Domestic Spying
Network/Outlet
The New York Times
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