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March 9, 2007

Big Brother
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:08 AM *

The FBI failed to report accurately how many people it snooped on using anti-terror measures, officials said a government audit revealed today. Demands for banks and phone companies to hand over people’s private information without telling them may also have gone beyond what is allowed by the Patriot Act, officials with access to the report told CNN.
CNN, 09MAR07

Okay, show of hands: How many people are surprised?

Comments on Big Brother:
#1 ::: Toni ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 11:24 AM:

I'm just surprised that they underreported by only(!) 20%. I would have guessed about 50%.

#2 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 11:28 AM:

Toni (#1): I don't have the slightest doubt that a follow-up story will reveal that the initial accounting of the underreporting was, shockingly, underreported.

#3 ::: Dave Weingart ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 11:32 AM:

Toni @ 1: You and me both.

#4 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 11:32 AM:

The part that surprises me is that it's possible to go "beyond what is allowed by the Patriot Act." Yikes.

#5 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 11:33 AM:

The real question is when the elected Democratic majority is going to stand up and say, "Okay, guys, enough. We're repealing the Patriot Act, we're out of Iraq, and by the way, George, we're impeaching you and Dick while we're at it."

#6 ::: Jamie ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 11:40 AM:


They aren't going to. It'd be political suicide, and keeping their jobs is far more important than DOING their jobs.

#7 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 11:53 AM:

Jamie, 6: Impeachment would not be political suicide for the Democrats (1). It's the best thing the Democrats could do right now, for themselves, for the country, and for the world. The fact that they probably aren't going to do it is one of the most frustrating and frightening things about the modern world (on account of what it means about the more directly threatening things about the modern world).

(1) I wouldn't rule out the possibility that various people have been told that it might be literal suicide.

#8 ::: --E ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 12:00 PM:


Why would the Democrats want to undo all that? They can make use of it just as easily as the Republicans, and they don't have to take the blame for putting it in place. What part of "politician" and all the potential for corruption, misuse of power, and self-serving wankery are the Democrats immune to?

I know, I know...I am too young to be this cynical.

I'm hoping that the petty desire for payback ("You impeached our guy over what bullshit, again?") will outweigh selfishness. But I ain't betting on it.

#9 ::: Matt ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 12:03 PM:

ethan #4:

That reminds me of when I first heard about FISA and said to myself, "My god, does it actually restrict government action at all?" and then some guy claimed it was too restrictive ... I forget the guys name though.

#10 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 12:03 PM:

Let's see... People have access to lots of data and do nothing with it. Then 9/11 happens. How to prevent something like it in the future? Well, get more data, of course.

#11 ::: Adam Rice ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 12:09 PM:

Seriously, the FBI shouldn't be accurately reporting the number of people they snoop on, because that would be giving The Enemy valuable intelligence in The War On Terror.

I can't believe anyone in the executive branch considers this a problem.

#12 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 12:11 PM:

I'm with Toni, I think that the 20% underreported figure is probably too small.

#13 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 12:19 PM:

Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
[a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
Croupier: Your winnings, sir.
Captain Renault: [sotto voce] Oh, thank you very much.
Captain Renault: Everybody out at once!

I've reached the level of cynicism where's it's better not to try and put it into words myself...

#14 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 12:27 PM:

Prisoner: Where am I?
Number Two: In The Village.
Prisoner: What do you want?
Number Two: Information.
Prisoner: Which side are you on?
Number Two: That would be telling. We want information, information, information...
Prisoner: You won't get it.
Number Two: By hook or by crook we will.
Prisoner: Who are you?
Number Two: The new Number Two.
Prisoner: Who is Number One?
Number Two: You are Number Six.
Prisoner: I am not a number. I am a free man.
Number Two: Ha, ha, ha, ha....

#15 ::: hrc ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 12:32 PM:

fidelio, you beat me to it!

#16 ::: Jamie ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 12:53 PM:


It's suicide because it won't happen (they don't have the numbers), and it'll create further division and strife, which they'll take the blame for.

#17 ::: Joy ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 12:59 PM:

Why Democrats have not impeached Bush can be summed up in 2 words:

President Cheney.

#18 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 01:05 PM:

#17: Ah. So, they'll need to do an exorcism before an impeachment.

#19 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 01:14 PM:

I submit that there's no rule that says you have to start impeachment at the top. Draft impeachment resolutions against Cheney, who seems to have fewer and fewer friends even on the Republican side of Congress. Force him out, then go after Bush. Hey presto! President Pelosi!

#20 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 01:17 PM:

Stefan @ 18
Linkmeister @ 19

Start at the bottom and work up. Without the support structure, it will implode nicely. Gonzales first, then Cheney.

#21 ::: Wakboth ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 01:27 PM:

#19: I think that's why the Dems aren't impeaching the socks off of Bush's feet, already. It would look like a blatant powergrab.

For the impeachment to become feasible, it has to get several Republicans behind it, so that the wingnuts cannot spin it as Pelosi going for a coup d'etat.

#22 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 01:36 PM:

The only surprise to me is that they got caught.

And yes, the 20% is the cover story.

As for the War on Terra: Frell, Frak, and Swive the War on Terra. It's just another totalitarian excuse to have a state of permanent war, which in turn is an excuse for these kinds of abuses.

#23 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 01:43 PM:

Just say, "The war on terror is over. We won." Then disestablish the Department of Homeland Security, repeal the Patriot Act, and bring the troops home from Iraq.

#24 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 01:56 PM:

To quote Firedoglake: The War on Terror was abandoned the day the US invaded Iraq and stopped looking for Bin Laden.

And I think the Waxman hearings are going to give Congress what it needs to impeach Cheney.

The best way is to get the public outraged enough that they demand that impeachment proceedings begin -- this way the politicians can say they're doing what the public wants, not making a grab for power...

#25 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 02:20 PM:

Now, now, let's not get hasty. An impeachment would be politically divisive.

I suggest we plan ahead, and make a provision for those unhappy about it being allowed to form their own nations within U.S. borders, and alloting them Superfund sites, free, for this purpose. Chances are folks who still think Bush and Cheney are worth keeping don't believe toxic waste is harmful, so I don't see why they'd object.

#26 ::: Adam Rice ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 02:31 PM:

All y'all talking about impeachment as a way to remove GW should remember this: Clinton was impeached. Congress didn't just conduct impeachment proceedings, they did in fact vote to impeach him. An impeachment is little more than a very stern finger-wagging, and Clinton came out of it looking pretty good. Congress wound up looking vindictive.

For an impeachment to have the effect of removing GW from office, GW would have to be capable of feeling shame at his mistakes, or that he makes mistakes at all.

Neither could happen.

#27 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 02:35 PM:

Impeachment is easy. It's getting the conviction that's hard. (Impeachment is just the charge(s) in the House; to do any good, it has to pass in the Senate.)

#28 ::: Zack Weinberg ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 02:41 PM:

Adam @26: It is potentially more than just finger-wagging; if the Senate votes to convict, the impeachee is out of office.

Personally, I think the events of Clinton's second term so poisoned the impeachment process that even if Bush were successfully impeached and convicted the Repubs would be able to spin it into a recapture of the Presidency in '08. The odds approach certainty if he were to be impeached but not convicted.

#29 ::: Nell ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 03:02 PM:

Not too much more needs to come out to make impeaching and convicting Gonzales very do-able. Eight to ten U.S. attorneys forced out for refusing to go along with a political agenda, at least two (and probably several more) who did go along, and it was approved in the White House...

Then on to Cheney. Fitz didn't indict because he didn't think he could win conviction in a criminal case, but the Shooter can certainly be impeached on the basis of the available evidence. Convicted? Well, that depends on how many of the Senators whose term ends in January 2009 plan to run again.

#30 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 03:08 PM:

I keep being told impeachment would take too long because of the hearings. Half the stuff (at least) is already publicly available: their own statements in the news should be enough, for Ghu's sake. What 'long' do we need? The big thing with Watergate was that the hearings were most of the investigation, and they were having to drag the evidence out of the WH. (All those subpoenas to get evidence, then having to go to court because they were being refused: remember?)

#31 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 03:10 PM:

Nobody here is talking about impeaching the puppet. Impeaching Gonzo and Darth IS possible, and in the works, I hope.

Public outrage is building -- between the mess over Walter Reed plus the treatment (or non-treatment) of returning wounded vets, the actions against the US Attorneys at DOJ, and the Waxman hearings into the mishandling of security in the OVP, there is enough to kindle a firestorm.

Now, there is always the possibility that these proceedings might produce evidence that would make impeaching Chimpy a slam-dunk...

#32 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 03:51 PM:

James @ 23:
The problem with declaring victory and going home is that a lot of Moslems, especially Arabs, are royally pissed at us as a result of the last 4 years in Iraq, and just because we take our toys home it doesn't follow that they will.

#33 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 03:54 PM:

And in related news, Sweden's government has just announced that they've been spying on their own citizens for decades. Just to ice the cake, they admitted this because they're hoping it'll make the electorate amenable to voting for increased spying. We're way down the rabbit hole on this one.

#34 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 03:56 PM:


#35 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 04:04 PM:

Hey, even if the Dems don't get to impeach and convict El Caudillo. they do get to use that same strategy when they get elected in '08. All they have to do is run Hilary Clinton as VP, and then win the election. It doesn't matter who is President; the dishonorable opposition won't dare do anything to make him leave office for any reason, 'cause that would leave them with President Clinton II.

Republican Senator:
There's no way we'll allow that bill through without a filibuster!

The Prez:
Oh, well, if you're going to treat me that way, I guess I'll just have to resign.

Oh, no, Mr. President, I didn't mean it, honest!

#36 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 04:09 PM:

ethan @ 34

Yup, here and here
or just go to Slashdot to see the story and the reaction.

#37 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 04:09 PM:

Ethan, I share your discombobulation. I was severely cognitively dissed when I read last week of rioting in Denmark.

#38 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 04:12 PM:

I'm honestly surprised the DOJ Inspector General found any wrongdoing to report.

#39 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 04:21 PM:

#38 -- the IGs are some of the few offices that still have watchdogs with teeth.

Why? Because between the Audit and Investigation arms of each IG, we return lots of money to the Federal government.

I know, I work for one of them, and the figures I've seen regarding recovery of funds is in the billions. And that's just for one department.

#40 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 04:27 PM:

As my grandfather was fond of saying, the truth will out. Now that the Dems have subpoena power and the ability to set agendas, it's slowly creeping into the spotlight (even if the MSM is stubbornly refusing to acknowledge most of it).

Dick Cheney is next in line for exposure. Henry Waxman has set hearings on the CIA leak case. I'm not sure whether I'm looking forward more to those, or Ann Coulter at last getting the treatment she deserves.

#41 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 04:37 PM:

If you want to protest against a surveillance regimen, there are many peaceful ways to protest...

For example: You can overload wiretapping and email-snooping systems by including certain keywords in every phone conversation:

"Hi, Dick, jihad, how are you doing?"
"Fine Jane, anthrax letter, and you?"
"I just walked the dog, yellowcake, there's two feet of snow outside!"

Or end all emails with signatures such as:

"Al-Qaeda assassination motorcade dirty bomb durkadurkastan"

(Of course, now I'll never be allowed inside your wonderful country. Pity! I always wanted to see the Library of Congress...)

#42 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 04:43 PM:

A.R.Yngve @ 41
If some kind spammer will donate the use of a couple of million emails, we can really overload the system. As well as send them out chasing their tails trying to find the people behind all those fake email addresses.

#43 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 05:29 PM:

The problem with all that is the assumption that the overload works.

It might just make them better at filtering noise. (see: spam)

#44 ::: Dave Hutchinson ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 06:01 PM:

Please permit me a certain small English surprise that they reported at all...

#45 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 06:57 PM:

Dave Hutchinson @ 44

I was surprised at first, myself, but after thinking about it for awhile I'm more alarmed. I'm becoming convinced that we are allowed to hear about this as a diversion from something else much more evil and glabrous. Or maybe squamous. But definitely evil.

#46 ::: Dave Hutchinson ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 07:28 PM:

SpeakerToManagers @45

Nah, it's definitely going to be something rugose...
Maybe I'm just being English, but isn't there something faintly surreal about a bureaucracy that eavesdrops on its population and then publishes performance figures?

#47 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 07:36 PM:


I think you're overestimating the uniformity of opinion and interest within government agencies. Also the competence of the conspirators. There have been leaks about scary abuse of power and misbehavior of government since 9/11. The problem isn't the tightly run conspiracy that never lets the secret slip out, it's a public that just doesn't care much.

As a thought experiment, which do you suppose sells more papers?

a. Anna Nicole news

b. Illegal FBI access to documents news

Similarly, which draws more viewers to CNN?

c. Extraordinary rendition news?

d. Bypassing FISA court supervision news?

e. The feds radically changing the story about Jose Padilla's alleged crimes news?

f. Some cute blonde chick getting raped and murdered in the tropics news?

Once you've made your guesses, it turns out there's experimental evidence to check them against. Most people don't seem to care. Perhaps this is because the MSM are all evil drones in thrall to Bush and Cheney, but I doubt it--those guys are pretty competitive for viewers/readers. I think the truth is simply that more people care about Anna Nicole than about scary extensions of surveilance. Widespread surveilance, warrantless wiretaps, torture and secret prisons are, God help us, fringe issues. Less important than gun control or farm subsidies. Much less important than whether that smarmy Florida congressman was trying to get into the pages' pants.

#48 ::: theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 07:55 PM:

Nothing the FBI does surprises me.

In 1972, I was living in Canada, teaching at Brock University in St Catharines, Ontario.

My parents were living in New York City; my father was at home recovering from a recent heart attack, and my mother had just gone into the hospital for breast cancer surgery. My aunt and uncle were staying at my folks' apartment, looking after my father, so my wife and I, my brother and his wife, and my friend Mark were staying at their apartment.

All of us except Mark had gone to bed, when the door buzzer rang. Mark answered the intercom, but the desk man downstairs said, "No, no, no one's coming!"

But there was someone coming: the FBI. They demanded to be let in, threatening to shoot the door open if Mark refused. He let them in, and they came into both bedrooms with guns drawn, demanding that we get out of bed and identify ourselves.

They were looking for my cousin and her husband, members of the Weather Underground, who had jumped bail in Seattle on Federal charges. None of us fit their descriptions. The FBI had clearly been tipped off by the desk clerk that five young people were staying in the apartment, but they had no search warrant. They had a bench warrant for the arrest of my cousin and her husband, but that wouldn't make up for the fact that they had not a shadow of probable cause to believe that any of us was a person identified in the warrant. (A tip is not probable cause.)

Nevertheless, because they were embarrassed by their illegal invasion, they wouldn't put away their guns, and kept asking me to show proof that I was not Silas Trim Bissell (who was six inches taller than I and cadaverously lean). Finally, they pretended to find a solution: Trim had an appendectomy scar and, as it happens, I have no such scar. If I would disrobe...

Had I not had to go to the hospital next morning to see my mother, I would have been happy to refuse the request. Then they would have arrested me, and looked like fools when my attorney came. But I was pressed for time. I said "yes", they checked out my short, plump and scarless bod, and grumpily left.

My brother, who had just the week before finished a year clerking for the Chief Justice of the United States, said, as we sat around doing a post-mortem, "Odd how weak your Constitutional rights seem when you're standing there without your pants on."

#49 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 08:50 PM:

Like ethan (@4), I am still trying to come to terms with it being possible to exceed the PATRIOT Act.

#50 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 08:54 PM:

Dave Hutchinson @ 46

Just to prove that you can too make this stuff up, I point to Chip Delany's novel "Triton", in which the government is discovered to have installed cameras everywhere as part of their panopticon policy. However, the cameras have shown them so little of use, that they have to resort to selling recordings from the cameras to the recordees (as egoboost) in order to recoup the cost of installation.

Would that real governments were so honest about how effective their systems are.

#51 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 08:59 PM:

#39: I didn't say I thought the IG was toothless.

#52 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2007, 09:20 PM:

A.R. 41: If it's worth visiting, you'll be able to.

#53 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2007, 01:46 AM:

Here in the UK, Friday, there was a newspaper advert in The Yorkshire Post, about two-thirds of the page, describing all the things that terrorists do.

They use the internet.

They hire cans and vans.

They go on holiday to unusual places, without telling everyone where they're going.

They buy mobile phones.

By that point I was mentally replacing "terrorists" with "people".

I also see that Jo Walton has won another award for one of her novels, but will only get a physical object if she turns up in person to get it. This sounds just like the deceptions the Police sometimes use to lure criminals into reach.

I am definitely getting paranoid.

#54 ::: Martyn Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2007, 04:59 AM:

Reading this thread made me realise that somewhere Philip K Dick is sitting shaking his head. And I don't mean his robot.

Or do I?

#55 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2007, 04:21 PM:

Dave Hutchinson:

Maybe I'm just being English, but isn't there something faintly surreal about a bureaucracy that eavesdrops on its population and then publishes performance figures?

I'd agree. If it's surreal and a bureaucracy it sounds like The Laundry in action to me, however. Let's ask an expert on the subject--Paging Mr. Stross! Mr. Charles Stross?

#56 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2007, 04:29 PM:

What I want to know is: after the next election, will President Giuliani/Obama pledge to put an end to all this illegal surveillance?

#57 ::: Dave Hutchinson ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2007, 05:50 PM:

SpeakerToManagers @50

they have to resort to selling recordings from the cameras to the recordees (as egoboost) in order to recoup the cost of installation.
Forgive me, it's been so long since I read Triton I'd forgotten that bit. It would be beyond funny if they actually had to do that, though, wouldn't it? `The Perfect Gift For The One You Love...'

#58 ::: Karl T. ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2007, 05:52 PM:

#56: And if so, will the pledge be worth the vibrating air molecules used to convey it?

I really feel that the deepest damage the Nixonites have done to America's "founding ideals" is the deep conviction they instilled in a number of otherwise-optimistic people that the Mr. Smith who goes to Washington can make no difference. Most Americans have heard the refrain: "They're all crooks. What does it matter which one I vote for?" I don't find that infuriating in the sense of "President Gore wouldn't have a billion people thinking that we are the Great Satan after all," so much as "I've got Battered Electorate Syndrome -- I've been lied to and deceived and manipulated and defrauded for so long that I no longer have any hope of believing anyone in high office."

#59 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2007, 06:59 PM:

I was up really late last night and SKY news, a Murdoch-owned but relatively restrained 24 hour UK-based news channel, cut across to CBS evening news with Katie Couric, and I was just gobsmacked.

Unless I'm completely mad, CBS is one of the mainstream US TV networks, not a Murdoch-owned propoganda loudhailer. But in the 10 minutes I watched, Couric several times referred to the Patriot Act as one of Law Enforcement's Most Important Weapons Against Terrorism while reporting on the fact that the FBI breached it wholesale.

Then she introduced a frankly comical piece in which CBS claimed that Voters Don't Care If You're A Sleazebag Anymore, Not Like In The Clinton Years, As Long As You Are A Republican And Confess On TV. Some republican pollster was brought on to repeat the lede. Giuliani and Newt Gingrich were the Republican examples: Gingrich admitting that he was having an affair while serving as chief witch-hunter on the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.

The token Democartic example? Hillary Clinton. The crime she confessed to? Being married to Bill.

Jesus Christ, this channel is the Liberal Media?

#60 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2007, 07:50 PM:

Niall, the 'Liberal Media' is (and has been) a myth since, oh, about 1995. Before that, there were still parts of it that were liberal. But people (especially conservatives) like to talk like it still is; they get money and votes that way.

I'm surprised that anyone is surprised that Newt had an affair while he was attacking Clinton. This is the guy who served divorce papers on his first wife while she was in the hospital for cancer treatment.

#61 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2007, 08:47 PM:

The thing to do is make sure you impeach them in the correct order, to secure proper succession. Impeach Cheney first, and only move on to Dubya after Cheney has been convicted and removed from office, making sure the Senate blocks any appointed vice president in the meantime.

#62 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2007, 09:40 PM:

[..] the 'Liberal Media' is (and has been) a myth since, oh, about 1995.

I think it has been a myth since 1979-80, as the press started sucking up to Ronald Reagan.

An account in Mark Green's book Ronald Reagan's Reign of Error described one of the Reagan-Carter debates. Carter wanted to use his speaking time making his own points, not challenging all of Reagan's errors. He assumed that the press would do that job. Big mistake.

#63 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2007, 10:33 PM:

Everybody seems to believe the media are biased against them. This is related to confirmation bias, though there's probably some better term for it. That's at least part of why conservatives claim the media is dishonestly biased toward liberals, and liberals claim it's dishonestly biased toward conservatives.

The liberally-biased media carried stories about Clinton's sex scandal with Lewinsky, and the various surrounding bimbo-eruptions and bimbo-allegations, every day for months. You couldn't turn on the flipping TV without hearing about semen-stained dresses and unorthodox uses of cigars. But plenty of Republicans were convinced that the liberal media was giving Clinton all kinds of breaks.

Now, the conservatively-biased media has been carrying stories about the Plaime/Libby case, the Katrina disaster, Abramoff, that Republican congressman who was trying to get into the pants of the pages, surveilance scandals, secret prisons, allegations of torture, and endless stories documenting the unfolding disaster in Iraq. (Note that stories on essentially all the scandals involving scary police powers, corruption, and disaster at home and abroad that we discuss here are available from CNN and the Wall Street Journal and NPR.)

Now, there are media biases, and sometimes they're partisan. But it's really easy to overestimate them. And it's much more interesting, at least to me, to look at the nonpartisan, structural ones. Why can every TV station in America afford a meteorologist who has a serious hard-science degree and background and deals with complex mathematical models every day, but they can't get anyone who passed a second-semester statistics course to look at the numbers they report? What happens to stories that aren't visually appealing and don't translate nicely into good guy/bad guy explanations? What happens to a political story when neither Democratic nor Republican sources have an interest in getting the story reported?

#64 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2007, 03:33 PM:

Again: what guarantees do we have that the next President will reverse the "Big Brother" trend? Have the candidates spoken out against excessive snooping on citizens?

#65 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2007, 09:55 AM:

Earl Cooley @ 61

It seems to me that the order of impeachment isn't that important. Suppose we get rid of Shrub first, making Cheney president. Well, this is like yanking the top off the box of cockroaches; they can't do anything but run around looking for the darkness. Cheney operates in the shadows, protected by his puppets and the deniability provided by his aides. And he doesn't do Presidential; ceremonial and diplomatic functions aren't his thing at all. They'll just use up the time he could be in there conspiring.

Of course dumping Shrub will be easier if you get rid of Cheney first because the puppet won't be able to move very well without a hand on the strings (I euphemize). Like many things in life it's a tradeoff.

#66 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2007, 11:50 AM:

#64 A.R.:

I've wondered this myself. I keep thinking it's just not in the nature of the kind of person who becomes president to hand power back to the people voluntarily. Though I will be very happy to be proven wrong, by whichever person wins the presidency.

One problem is the incentives facing the president. Suppose Hillary is elected president, and takes office in 2009. If there's a 9/11 scale attack, or even a 3/11 scale attack, in the US, she will be held responsible for it by the American people. So however uncomfortable she may be in principle with widespread wiretapping and automated monitoring of conversations and emails, with beating alleged answers out of suspected bad guys, and all the rest, she has a big incentive to keep those programs going. A 9/11 scale attack in 2010 means that she loses the next election in 2012.

Further, the Democrats haven't exactly demonstrated their deep commitment to civil liberties in the last six years. The Patriot Act wasn't passed on a party line vote, for example. The Democratic wins in 2006 didn't feature much campaigning on ending torture, closing the secret prisons, shutting down Guantanamo bay, ending the widespread surveilance we keep hearing about, or repealing the Patriot Act.

#67 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2007, 03:54 PM:

Now, there are media biases, and sometimes they're partisan. But it's really easy to overestimate them. And it's much more interesting, at least to me, to look at the nonpartisan, structural ones. Why can every TV station in America afford a meteorologist who has a serious hard-science degree and background and deals with complex mathematical models every day,

Citations, please. Isn't much of the USA still full of "weather girls" chosen for their looks and cheery-bounciness rather than academic background and achievements?

Around here there's a history of using meteorologists but then New England gets some of the worst's nastiest and most changeable weather (google on Mt Washington...), and Boston has one of the world's highest concentrations of academics and new college graduates looking for work quite a number of whom have math modeling experience in thermo....

but they can't get anyone who passed a second-semester statistics course to look at the numbers they report?

It's not a matter of "can't get," it's a matter of weather forecasting is not generally a subject of social divergence of opinions and attitudes and values--MOST people when giving warning of a massive storm approaching, will go out of their way to take precautions, including hauling ass out of lowlying areas, clearing store shelves of milk and water and food in preparation for a siege (it's impressive what blizzard warnings do regarding emptying stores of bread and milk etc. around here), and want to have warnings ahead of time. Social issues, however, get into credo and such.

What happens to stories that aren't visually appealing and don't translate nicely into good guy/bad guy explanations? What happens to a political story when neither Democratic nor Republican sources have an interest in getting the story reported?

One listens to it on nonprofit radio stations that carry BBC news, or reads things on the Internet, or tries to get Air America Radio where it hasn't been gagged....

#68 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2007, 04:28 PM:

Everywhere I've lived, the local TV stations had some kind of TV weatherman who was referred to as a meteorologist, though I gather than some TV and radio stations buy a service. I also know a guy who used to be a TV meteorologist and was also the de facto science reporting guy for the station, since he was the only person in the place with much of a science background.

TV stations, newspapers, and radio stations take some care to get the weather right, even though it costs money and requires serious equipment and expertise. It's common, even in smallish towns (where I've lived most of my life) to have TV stations compete on their cool new radar and their great weatherman. This was in the midwest and the south, both also homes of some interesting weather.

Similarly, they're pretty careful to get the sports scores right, and the stock prices right. But on most other stories, they can't be relied upon to do even minimal critical thinking to check up on stories, make sure numbers aren't obviously silly, etc.

My interpretation of this is that getting the weather wrong more often than everyone else, or getting the sports scores wrong ever, loses them business. Getting facts wrong, reporting silly, obviously-bogus statistics, etc., doesn't. They respond to incentives.

Anyway, my point is that these systematic biases are probably more important than the partisan ones. I don't know how to prove that, but as something of an outsider, it looks to me like both left and right complain a lot about media bias when what they're really upset about is either generic laziness in reporting, or lack of public interest in some subject they care about. Maybe that's *my* confirmation bias kicking in, making me remember the conservatives complaining bitterly about the liberal media protecting Clinton while CNN was running 24-hour coverage of the stained dress, but not the legitimate complaints of media bias.

#69 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2007, 05:18 PM:

In other news, Attorney-General Gonzalez "has admitted mistakes were made in the dismissal of key personnel."

Note his use of the ass-covering passive voice: "mistakes were made", not "I made mistakes." Guess there's not much chance we'll see his resume until the fecal-ventilatory index gets higher (thanks for the phrase, Charlie!)>

#70 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2007, 05:20 PM:

Whoops, I meant "resignation", not "resume". But if I see his resume, I'll be sure not to hire him.

#71 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2007, 06:00 PM:

From the official transcript, via TPM:
'I believe in accountability. Like every CEO of every major organization, I am responsible for what happens at the Department of Justice. I acknowledge that mistakes were made here. I accept that responsibility and my pledge to the American people is to find out what went wrong here, to assess accountability, and to make improvements so that the mistakes in this instance do not occur again in the future.'

Okay, he says this, but he says he didn't read the memos, and he didn't know what his large-number-of-underlings were doing.

Ken Lay/Scooter Libby defense: I was so busy with important stuff that I didn't have time to pay attention to my job, and there were so many people to keep track of, and I couldn't remember all that stuff anyway.

Heckuvajob, Gonzales!

#72 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2007, 10:24 PM:

What do you think about Gen. Peter Pace saying homosexuality is immoral?

#73 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2007, 12:54 AM:

Marilee, #72: I say, then Gen. Peter Pace should not engage in homosexual activities.

I also wonder how long it's going to be before we start seeing Pace/anybody slash?

#74 ::: ChristineL ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2007, 08:32 PM:

Just now appearing on "9/11 Mastermind Confesses to Attacks."

Am I the only one who finds it suspicious that this news breaks just as the attorney-firing scandal gets really big? As though they were sitting on it until they could use it to distract us if a scandal got out of hand?

#75 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2007, 01:46 AM:

I'm suspicious any time any news breaks. So yeah.

#76 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2007, 01:47 AM:

...and by yeah, what I really mean is no, after reviewing your question.

#77 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2007, 08:43 AM:

Didn't he confess to pretty much everything bad that had happened in the last ten years or so? It's good to know that our, um, "harsh interrogation methods" are working exactly as they're supposed to. Keep at him with the waterboarding and the electrodes on his nuts for another few weeks, and he'll be confessing to being Jack the Ripper, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus.

#78 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2007, 08:46 AM:

#69 Bruce:

Actually, I'd say this scandal demonstrates that mistakes were made in the appointment of certain key personnel, such as the Attorney General. The president had better find a way to ditch Gonzales very quickly--if congress gets a taste for big media-circus hearings and impeachment trials, he's going to regret it.

#79 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2007, 09:55 AM:

albatross #77: he'll be confessing to being Jack the Ripper, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus.

I knew it! I knew they were all the same person!

It just makes sense.

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