Tuesday, October 16, 2007

first things first

While it can be argued that all the news that’s fit to print doesn’t always get printed in the New York Times, I would like to take a brief moment to (again) critique a couple of instances when the question was not whether or not it was printed, but where.

First up, a story that appeared on the front page. . . of the Business section:

The phone company Qwest Communications refused a proposal from the National Security Agency that the company’s lawyers considered illegal in February 2001, nearly seven months before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, the former head of the company contends in newly unsealed court filings.

While this is certainly big business news, since Qwest chief Joseph Nacchio is fighting to stay out of jail after being convicted on insider trading charges in April, it is so much bigger than a back section implies. First, there is the open question of whether Nacchio was singled out for prosecution after failing to cooperate with Bush Administration requests to wiretap without warrant conversations involving American citizens inside the US—and that is huge—but bigger, now, to my mind, is the revelation that Bush’s NSA sought unprecedented (and illegal) spy powers well in advance of the events that Bush and company now argue necessitated these unconstitutional intrusions.

This story was actually first reported in the Rocky Mountain News last Thursday, but it took three more days to migrate to the paper of record. If corroborated, Nacchio’s allegation proves once and for all that the war on terror™ is nothing but a smokescreen for far more sinister designs. If this story received the proper front-page treatment, perhaps it might convince more congressional Democrats that Bush/Cheney’s insistence upon weaker FISA requirements is not about keeping America safe, but is about stifling dissent and fighting political opponents. (Remember that there is already anecdotal evidence that journalists have been spied upon under some NSA program or programs.)

One congressional Democrat that does read the business section, and, so, does suspect nefarious doings, is Michigan Rep. John Conyers. In a letter to DNI McConnell and a DoJ official, Conyers has asked for a full briefing on pre-9/11 spy activities, and all relevant documents.

Let’s see where (or if) that story lands in today’s papers.

. . .

Another interesting story from Sunday’s paper could be found in “Week in Review.”

Senators Joe Biden and Chris Dodd voted against it. Senator Barack Obama said he would have voted against it if he had voted. Former Senator John Edwards implied he would have voted against it if he could vote.

And Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton? She voted in favor of the measure in question, which asked the Bush administration to declare Iran’s 125,000-member Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization. Such a move — more hawkish than even most of the Bush administration has been willing to venture so far — would intensify America’s continuing confrontation with Iran, many foreign policy experts say.

While the “Week in Review” section is one of the better parts of Sunday’s New York Times, it is usually considered the province of analysis, commentary, and opinion, and not so much the place where the Gray Lady reports her best news. . . which makes Helene Cooper’s story (quoted above) sorely misplaced.

For this article is actually what I would call news reporting. It gives the reader some facts, like who voted how, and what the resolution means in the estimation of several experts. It relays the widely held perception that Sen. Clinton is not so much conveying her positions to primary voters as positioning herself for the general election, but also gives room for Clinton’s campaign to respond.

It is far more informative, and, as I see it, more interesting and important, than the latest fundraising numbers. . . which regularly appear on the front page—the very front page—of the Times, usually above the fold.

It is fine to want to understand how a candidate runs, but not at the expense of knowing where she stands. It is hard not to wonder about editorial priorities—or the priorities of the editors, for that matter—when the front-page news winds up in places like the business section, while money news winds up on the front page.

Update: Could the Nacchio/wiretap story have legs? Appearing this afternoon on the “Reporter’s Notebook” segment of the PRI program To the Point, Caroline Frederickson, Director of the ACLU's legislative office in Washington, details the story of Joseph Nacchio and Bush Administration warrantless surveillance for a national radio audience. Frederickson outlines the issues raised by the Nacchio revelations and amplifies what’s at stake as clearly, succinctly, and forthrightly as I have heard to date. Explaining the speciousness of administration arguments for expanded spy capabilities with minimal oversight now that it is apparent that the NSA started domestic spying early in 2001, Frederickson asks, “How then will that keep us safer if 9/11 followed the expanded capability?”

It’s a great question, and one I’d like to see asked by many more news outlets—and many more congressional Democrats.

(cross-posted to The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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