Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Irony, Like History, Is Not Dead

Yesterday I posted on the shabby coverage of Al Gore's speech by the Washington Post and the NY Times (scroll down to "Checking the News"). With that in mind, I read an editorial in today's Times and suffered whiplash.

In times of extreme fear, American leaders have sometimes scrapped civil liberties in the name of civil protection. It's only later that the country can see that the choice was a false one and that citizens' rights were sacrificed to carry out extreme measures that were at best useless and at worst counterproductive. There are enough examples of this in American history - the Alien and Sedition Acts and the World War II internment camps both come to mind - that the lesson should be woven into the nation's fabric. But it's hard to think of a more graphic example than President Bush's secret program of spying on Americans.

...A chilling article in yesterday's Times confirmed our fears.

According to the article, the eavesdropping swept up vast quantities of Americans' private communications without any reasonable belief that they could be related to terrorism. The National Security Agency flooded the Federal Bureau of Investigation with thousands of names, e-mail addresses, telephone numbers and other tips that virtually all led to dead ends or to innocent Americans.

...This was not just a tragic waste of the F.B.I.'s resources in dangerous times. It was an outrageous and pointless intrusion into individuals' privacy. Anyone who read the original reports on the spying operation and thought, "Well, so what, I have nothing to hide," should think about the uncounted innocent Americans who had F.B.I. officers knocking on their doors because of secret and possibly illegal surveillance. The National Security Agency was originally barred from domestic surveillance without court supervision to avoid just this sort of abuse.

The first lawsuits challenging the legality of the domestic spying operation were filed this week, and Congress plans hearings. We hope that lawmakers are more diligent about reining in Mr. Bush now than they have been about his other abuses of power in the name of fighting terrorism.
[Emphasis added]

The editorial contains some rather noticeable echoes of Gore's speech, although it is not nearly as eloquent or passionate. I suspect that someone at the Times, possibly the editorialist, actually heard or read Gore's speech. Instead of alluding to something that couldn't make it to page 1, that was merely a truncated AP wire story emphasizing only that Gore stated the President was a law-breaker, the editorialist refers only to a story the Times reporters on the flood of tips sent to the FBI following 9/11.

The article referred to was a good one and should be allowed to resonate further by a timely editorial. I find nothing wrong with that. What I am curious about, however, is that there was and is no real coverage of a speech that was important for reasons even beyond who delivered it. Is referring to a former Democratic leader, one who just might re-enter politics via the 2008 campaign, off limits? It certainly appears so, especially since the editorial contains some strikingly similar language, historial allusions, and conclusions.

If that is the case, then the NY Times' failure to cover the Gore speech is even more shameful than I had originally thought.


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