"As you know, there has been much gnashing of teeth and rolling of eyes since The New York Times disclosed last Thursday that President Bush ordered the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on American citizens after 9/11 --- without first getting a warrant. It is the administration's contention that the eavesdropping orders were only given in cases where there was a clear link with terrorism.
OK .. before we get into this, let's explore a scenario. Some reports over the weekend have suggested that this scenario might be more fact than fiction. U.S. Intelligence agencies overseas discover the phone number of Osama bin Laden's satellite phone. Osama makes a satellite phone call to a U.S. citizen living outside of Chicago. Nobody's home. Intelligence operatives are certain that bin Laden will try to place the call again, but it may be from a different phone. They know that Osama changes phones frequently, so there is no time to waste in mining this resources. Their best chance to intercept bin Laden's next phone call is to place a tap on the U.S. citizen's phone. The next phone call may be in a matter of minutes, or hours. There is no time to go before a court to get a wiretap order. So ... what do you do? Do you put the wiretap in place immediately, or do you take the chance of missing the next phone call from Osama while trying to get a court order? Now, before you answer, imagine that this might have been a phone call from bin Laden to Mohammed Atta an hour before Atta was to board that American Airlines flight in Boston. The call was bin Laden giving Atta the final go-ahead for the attacks of 9/11. Without a court order you intercept the call, discover the plot, and save 3000 lives. Wait for a court order and the 9/11 attacks go forward.
OK .. there's your scenario. You're the president. You've taken an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States and to uphold its laws. Obviously this character living outside of Chicago has some ties to Osama bin Laden. Something may be in the works: another terrorist attack may be just hours away. Do you spend those hours trying to get a warrant? Or do you spend those hours trying to prevent the impending terrorist attack.
Now, with Bush there is, of course, no way he can win on this. In retrospect, if he goes ahead and orders the wiretaps on people who have clear ties to terrorism, he will be assailed by the left for violating the law and ignoring our rights. If it is later discovered that he was aware of someone in this country with direct ties to terrorism but didn't take immediate action to monitor their activities, he will be accused of ignoring clear threats to our country.
If you consider this situation fairly, you will probably come to the realization that you are just happy that it isn't you that has to make the decision as to how to proceed.
Now .. my feelings (as if you cared). From what I've learned thus far I'm not convinced that there was no way to get a court order for these wiretaps. I know that the administration is claiming that these wiretaps absolutely did prevent terrorist attacks in our country, and that they are critical to save American lives. They cite one particular plot to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge. If the laws of this country are not adequate to allow the president and our security agencies to act when a clear threat is present, then those laws should be considered by the congress. First and foremost the United States is a government of law. Everybody, from the urban outdoorsman seeking money for his next pint in Omaha, to the highest officials in our government, including the president, must abide by these laws. If you think that the laws aren't sufficient to allow you to do your job, try to get them changed. But follow the law. This rule-of-law thing is what makes this country so unique and so extraordinary.
Now .. has Bush broken those laws? Don't know. Not enough information yet. It should be looked into though, not in some partisan Washington show, but quietly in talks and discussions between members of the congress and the Justice Department. Oh, and speaking of members of congress. One thing does seem clear. The leading Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate intelligence committees were briefed on these wiretap activities and knew that they were going on. These partisans cannot now step up to the microphones and condemn Bush for his actions. They knew, they are complicit.
In his radio address on Saturday President Bush criticized the media for disclosing the wiretaps. He was wrong. This is exactly what the media should be done. This is the value of the free press. While The New York Times can certainly be criticized for sitting on this story for a year, this is precisely how the American people are protected from the excesses of government and government officials by an active free press. In countries ruled by despots this news story would never make it to print. Give thanks that it is not so in our country.
Now here is one amazing story. It would seem that there is no longer any room for doubt that the mainstream American media leans quite heavily to the left. The study was managed by a political science professor from UCLA named Tim Groseclose. Groseclose claims to be surprised at the results. Study co-author Jeffrey Milyo, an economist and public policy scholar from the University of Missouri says that ".... there is quantifiable and significant bias in that nearly all of them lean to the left."
We won't get into the methodology of the study here -- it's actually quite confusing --- but the results were interesting. What is the most liberal major media outlet out there? That would be the news pages of The Wall Street Journal. This is flat-out amazing considering the fact that the editorial page of the Journal is just about as conservative as it gets for major outlets. Behind the news pages of The Wall Street Journal, we have CBS News, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times as the next most liberal news organizations. There were only two major news source that scored to the right of the American people, Fox News Channel's "Special Report with Brit Hume," and The Washington Times. Hume's program is only so slightly to the right that it is also listed in the study as being essentially "centrist." The study found that the most centrist outlet was "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" followed by CNN's "NewsNight with Aaron Brown" and ABC's "Good Morning America." Hume was fourth in the centrist category.
I think it's rather interesting that this study found that the only major media broadcast outlet that was identified as being to the right, Brit Hume's program, was also identified as "centrist." Other than The Washington Times the rest of the media is to the left.
Isn't this the place where I say "I told you so?" "