I am a bit distraught. Take a look at NPR’s front page this morning. The top e-mailed stories are “Solving the Mystery of Mother-Daughter Speak“, “Kurt Vonnegut Judges Modern Society“, “African Slave Descendents Trace History in Ghana.” All were fluff pieces. The Editor’s picks weren’t much better. “UPN, WB to Form New Network“ , “Frank Deford: The Value of Experience in Athletics“, “Bolivian Leader's Sweater Prompts Fashion Frenzy“. OK, I know next to nothing about the Bolivian Leader, except that his name is Evo Morales and he is reputed to be a carbon copy of Hugo Chavez. So rather than tell us about Morales’ policies, or why Bolivians like him so much, they are telling us about his sweater?!
Then, to top it all off, they have an interview with Matthew Dowd, a Republican strategist (whatever that means) about the Bush administration’s eavesdropping. For kicks, you should all listen . I have a couple of problems with this interview.
The first is that it even took place. This man is an authority on government eavesdropping why? What qualifies him to talk about wire tapping? Nothing, except that he is the guy offered up by the administration this week. I expect more from NPR. But lately, in its attempt to counter accusations that it has a liberal bias, it has accepted these lame people as “experts” rather than sticking to higher standards for its reporting. (I have also notice that since opening their West Coast offices, they have added a lot more fluff pieces. Why? Are we in California undeserving of the dignity of good journalism? RBR, don’t you dare answer that!)
The second problem: the lead into this story was about the President’s visit to the NSA today to deliver a speech defending and promoting his eavesdropping. OK, for starters, you have just told us that you are doing a propaganda piece. Thanks for the warning. But this isn’t the story that you should be running.
The third problem I have is how Dowd spins. Notice how he tries, ever so subtly, to change the story. He says the vast majority of the public supports the President’s measures to protect them from terrorism, and that a vast majority of the public is “on the side of the President” on this. Be he doesn’t offer up actual evidence. So we are to take this on faith.
Then he says the American people think, “Let’s preserve the principles on this, but let’s make sure there isn’t another terrorist attack.” as if the principles aren’t that important.
Inskeep then counters the claim with poll results that show otherwise. 56% believe a search warrant should be required to tap overseas calls and only 42% said warrants aren’t necessary. The spinner responds by suggesting that the wording of the survey questions will get you the results you want. That is probably the only honest statement he makes in the entire interview. And then, listen to how he would re-word the question! He rewords the question with all the buzz words, “terrorism, Al Qaeda, protection, etc. That you have to hear! Loaded, loaded, loaded. And THEN he pulls out the talking points and tries to re-frame the issue. We aren’t listening to just any international phone calls, we are only listening to international phone calls coming INTO the United States.
Then Inskeep implies in a follow up question that this allows the President to talk about the things he is comfortable with- 9/11, War on Terror, etc. rather than the real issues where he isn’t getting high marks from the public. In short, Inskeep accepted the premise of Dowd’s statement and then allowed Dowd to ramble on about god knows what. He ends up making to sense.
Now Inskeep tries to trip the guy up by going back to the phone calls. (something he should have done immediately after Dowd provided incorrect information. Better late than never, I guess!) He points out that the Administration insists that is has listened into International phone calls originating inside and outside the country and that they haven’t listened to domestic phone calls without warrants. Listen carefully to the response. Dowd repeats the talking point, “They have listened to the phone calls of suspected terrorists from Al Qaeda coming into the US.” Then he uses the example of a purely domestic phone call, ignoring completely the charge that they were listening to calls originating in the US. And then, he shows his ignorance and bashes the media all at once by saying that from what he has read in the media, any domestic calls that were captured were an accident.
It was truly a poor performance by Inskeep and NPR. It is also an indicator of the Spin to come.