Wednesday, May 17, 2006

NYT continues to play silent and stupid on the NSA scandals

Verizon, the country's second-largest phone company, said yesterday that it had not provided local phone records to the National Security Agency as part of efforts to compile a database of calling records to track terrorist activities.
The announcement, a day after BellSouth issued a similar statement, came in response to a report in USA Today last Thursday that the three biggest Bell companies had handed over their customer calling records to the security agency, including data on local calls, without warrants.
But the statement by Verizon left open the possibility that MCI, the long-distance carrier it bought in January, did turn over such records -- or that the unit, once absorbed into Verizon, had continued to do so. The company said Verizon had not provided customer records to the National Security Agency "from the time of the 9/11 attacks until just four months ago."

The above is from Ken Belson and Matt Richtel's "Verizon Denies Turning Over Local Phone Data" in this morning's New York Times and it's slightly less a hogwash than yesterday's report by Belson. Slightly.

What do you know they had a source they could have noted yesterday:

A senior government official, granted anonymity to speak for publication about the classified program, confirmed on Friday that the security agency had access to records of most telephone calls in the United States. The official said the call records were used for the limited purpose of identifying regular contacts of "known bad guys." The official would not discuss the details of the program, including the identity of companies involved.

That's not the paper's only source confirming the program. That is the only one cited, one more than yesterday. What's going on here? Why is the paper's trashing it's own coverage (yes, it can't write about the NSA and spying without noting the December report -- by James Risen and Eric Licthblau -- that the paper's done its best to subvert and disown)?

It's the story they never wanted so they sat on it for over a year. It was an attention getter and the basis for a best selling book. So as other, braver souls go for the story, they have to keep butting in, "We were there first!" and then downplay the efforts of others because the paper never intended to break the story and wouldn't have if Risen's book hadn't been published.

The paper's sitting on information right now regarding this story. It's talked about at the paper and it's not just whispered anymore because some reporters are getting ticked off by the paper's refusal to address the story. (There are a few at the paper interested in more than just collecting a paycheck and moving along to become one of the many dead weights collecting a check that never writes a story, never edits a story, just goes into work, sits at a desk and collects a check -- the side of the Times you don't see when they're applauding yet another company for "downsizing").

Today, the paper cops to one source they couldn't yesterday. Maybe a month from now, we'll find out about another source they have in their pocket?

This story is not going away, no matter how hard the paper tries to sit on it. ABC has already tossed out a new aspect to it (which the New York Times hasn't been interested in reporting on) and there's another story on the horizon (not from the paper of record).

Michael Hayden, who oversaw much of the program, goes before Congress tomorrow to see if he will or won't be confirmed for the post of CIA director. (KPFA will provide live coverage of the hearing -- Larry Bensky and Mitch Jesserich will anchor.) There are some who are hoping (I think in vain) that their own paper is planning to run a strong story tomorrow.

In the meantime, they downplay it and confuse the issue. Verizon's denial is carefully worded and the paper knows that. They just choose not to examine it today.

Writing on a different aspect of the press in a piece Micah highlights, Norman Solomon's "Corporate Media and Advocacy Journalism" (Common Dreams) can be applied to the Times' treatment of the spying issue as well:

In a world where so much wealth and so much poverty coexist, the maintenance of a rough status quo depends on a sense of propriety that borders on -- and even intersects with -- moral if not legal criminality. The institutional realities of power may numb us to our own personal sense of the distinction between what is just and what is just not acceptable.
On this planet in 2006, no greater contrast exists than the gap between human hunger and military spending. While international relief agencies slash already-meager food budgets because of funding shortfalls, the largesse for weaponry and war continues to be grotesquely generous. The globe's biggest offender is the United States government, which at the current skyrocketing rate of expenditures is -- if you add up all the standard budgets and "supplemental" appropriations for war -- closing in on a time when U.S. military spending will reach $2 billion per day.
This is what Martin Luther King Jr. was talking about in 1967 when he warned: "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." Such an occurrence isn’t sudden; it overtakes us gradually, becoming part of the normalized scenery.

Journalism, in its prevalent incarnations, has a strong tendency to blend into that scenery. And whether you’re working in a newsroom or watching in a living room or reading at a breakfast table, it takes a conscious act of will to look at the big picture -- and challenge the reigning priorities that are simultaneously quite proper and horrific.

Carl wanted this section of John Nichols' "FBI Said to Seek Phone Records of Reporters" (The Online Beat, The Nation) noted:

White House reporters are by any measure a docile lot, and there is no question that the Bush-Cheney administration has benefited tremendously from the frequently stenographic reporting of even its most outlandish spin by unquestioning national correspondents -- two words: "Judith Miller." But it is difficult to imagine, especially with the approval ratings for the president and vice president dipping to depths previously explored only by Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew in their darkest days of their diminishing power, that Washington reporters will take kindly to being spied on by an administration bent to shutting up confidential sources.
It is, of course, true that members of the White House press corps should not need a threat to their own privacy -- not to mention their most vital sources of honest information -- to be inspired to practice their craft as the founders intended. But the track record of the past several years indicates that a jolt of some kind was needed. Let's just hope that the reporters who cover Bush and Cheney will prove to be self-serving enough to now begin taking on an administration that appears to be bent on silencing the whistleblowers who are so necessary to the telling of the full story of what this White House is doing in our name but without our informed consent.

We noted the article yesterday but it's worth noting again. Martha notes R. Jeffrey Smith's
"Libby Judge Is Allowed To View Reporters' Notes" (Washington Post) which also has some bearing on the topic:

Several media organizations agreed yesterday to let a federal judge overseeing the trial of former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby review reporters' notebooks and other materials related to their work in the CIA leak case.
The New York Times and Time magazine said at a court hearing that they will turn over the materials to U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton this week so he can decide whether they must be shown to Libby's defense team.

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