Sunday, December 25, 2005

Bad Media

Google News search results for articles about Colin Powell speaking out on the domestic spying program:

CBS News: Powell defends eavesdropping

ABC News: Powell: 'Nothing Wrong' With Eavesdropping

Chicago Sun Times: Colin Powell supports eavesdropping

Fox News: Powell OK with NSA Eavesdropping

But that's not what the articles say. Check the Google news link above and notice the word "but" which is excerpted from most of the links.

Powell wasn't giving a free pass to the Bush Administration. Read each of the articles and see the qualifications in the former Secretary of State's comments. A better headline would've been "Powell unaware of warrantless taps" which RAW STORY ran (umm...i guess i should mention that was me who wrote that header).

But give credit to the New York Times for writing a more accurate headline: Powell Speaks Out on Domestic Spy Program

"My own judgment is that it didn't seem to me, anyway, that it would have been that hard to go get the warrants," Mr. Powell said. "And even in the case of an emergency, you go and do it. The law provides for that."

Most of the articles summarized the first part of that paragraph taken from Steven R. Weisman's New York Times article but left out the parts about emergency and law.

Bad Media. Bad, bad Media.


Powell's interview is online so I'm including the relevant parts to this post (afterwards are my reflections on the whole text).

From This Week on ABC News transcript of George Stephanopoulos' interview with Colin Powell:

Stephanopoulos: We're been right in the middle of a debate about the rule of law here in the United States this week, now that the president has acknowledged that he authorized the National Security Agency to spy on Americans without a court warrant.

You were secretary of state when this started. Were you aware of this?

Powell: No. And it is not the kind of thing that would have been brought to the secretary of state. I'm very familiar...

Stephanopoulos: Why not?

Powell: Because it was an internal domestic matter of the highest sensitivity. And I was not aware of this particular use of his authority.

But I'm very aware, from my earlier incarnation as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and as a national security advisor, of these kinds of activities.

And in the aftermath of 9/11, the American people had one concern, and that was to protect us. And so, I see absolutely nothing wrong with the president authorizing these kinds of actions.

But where we're going to have the debate — and we're having the debate now — is these actions are authorized as a matter of law, laws passed by Congress.

Stephanopoulos: Well, that's the issue.

Powell: That's the issue. And so the president made a determination that he had sufficient authority from the Congress to do this in the way that he did it, without getting warrants from the courts or reporting to the courts after doing it.

And the Congress will have to make a judgment as to whether or not they think the president was using the law correctly or not.

Stephanopoulos: What do you think?

Powell: And that's going to be a great debate.

My own judgment is that it didn't seem to me, anyway, that it would have been that hard to go get the warrants. And even in the case of an emergency, you go and do it. The law provides for that. And then, three days later, you let the court know what you have done and deal with it that way.

But for reasons that the president has discussed and the attorney general has spoken to, they chose not to do it that way, and they have briefed members of the Congress over the years on this program.

So hearings will be held, clearly, at the beginning of the new year. But I don't think anybody objects to the president doing this. He was trying to protect the nation. And we have done things like this in the past.

So there's no objection to it being done. The question is, was it done in the way that is consistent with the law...

Stephanopoulos: With the law. Isn't that the most important question for a president?

Powell: Well, yes, that's exactly it. And that's — the president says he did it in accordance with the law. And some members of Congress dispute that. So there will be a debate about this and there will be hearings held.

Stephanopoulos: And the president, in the meantime, says the program is going to continue. Do you think it should continue?

Powell: Yes. Of course it should continue.

Now, what — I think, however, the president, he'll have to determine what he wishes to say to the Congress about it or what they wish to do with respect to the court that's established for this purpose. I'll let them work that out.

But you have to do this in order to protect ourselves. And everybody understands that. I don't think you'll find any member of Congress that says, "Don't do this anymore."

The issue is, does the Congress believe that the president had been given the authority by the Congress not to use the procedures that had been set up? And this will be a subject of a lot of commentary, and it will go to congressional hearings, and an answer will emerge in due course.

It could have been avoided if the administration had chosen to use those procedures. But in the exigency of the situation, in the immediacy of the situation, the president made a judgment that he would not move that way. And he felt he had more than sufficient authority not to use those procedures.

Stephanopoulos: But it does sound like you think it would be wiser to go to the Congress now and get this authority.

Powell: I didn't say that, I don't think. I said the administration will now present to the Congress their point of view. The Congress will hold hearings on it.

What I said was that there was an alternative, which was to use the procedures that were in place, the FISA and other procedures, where you get a warrant beforehand or you take it to that special court designed for this purpose. Or, if you have to move so quickly that you don't have time to take it to a judge, then you notify the judge — you notify the court several days after you have taken the action.

It seems to me that would have been another way to handle it. But the president chose not to and felt that he had sufficient legal authority to do it the way that he did it.

Stephanopoulos: This is part of a much bigger debate about presidential power and what kind of power the president needs and has in a very dangerous time.

Vice President Cheney just said today, because of the threats we face, the president of the United States needs to have his constitutional arguments unimpaired. Do you agree with that?

Powell: Well, I don't know entirely what the vice president means by that. The president has his powers under the Constitution, and the Congress has its powers under the Constitution. It's the Congress that passes laws. It's the president who derives commander-in-chief authority from the Constitution. There have been debates about this issue, oh, I would say for the last 230 years.

Stephanopoulos: Most recently over torture, which you were involved in.

Powell: Yes, I was. It's been a debate in the course of our nation's history: presidential prerogative versus the prerogatives of the Congress.

And when you have this kind of a debate, then let's have congressional hearings, let's have debate and discussion between the president and between members of his administration and Congress to see if they could not find a solution.

The nation is not going to collapse over this issue. What the president is determined to do and what the Congress and the American people want him to do is protect us from terrorism. And if eavesdropping does that, then more power to it. And nobody is suggesting that the president shouldn't do this.

The whole issue is what is the shared responsibility of the Congress in this matter with respect to the laws that it had previously passed. And some members of Congress do not see a problem; other members of Congress do see a problem, on both sides of the aisle.

And as Senator Specter said, he'll be holding hearings on it in January to get to the bottom of it.

After reading this back-and-forth, hedge-and-sway in full...I take back my criticism. Who the hell knows what Colin Powell believes, feels or thinks?

And as for "nobody is suggesting that the president shouldn't do this." Perhaps George Stephanopoulos should have filled in Powell on the latest stories (if he's aware of them):

one, two, and three which reveal that the eavesdropping may go far beyond than what has been admitted by the Bush Administration the last few weeks.

There are very few who would "suggest" that widespread data-mining of millions of Americans' phone calls and emails is something that the president should be doing.

(Off-topic a little bit but Howie Kurtz in Monday's Washington Post reveals that 11 days before President Bush met with NY Times' editors to pressure them not to run their eavesdropping story WaPo editors also got a one-on-one censor session: Bush Presses Editors on Security.)


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