Monday, January 09, 2006

Time Magazine: Framing the NSA Leak Story

Time magazine made no pretentions about how they feel about the NSA survellaince program when they asked on the front cover of the Jan 9 edition:

Is George Bush Spying on You?

(I would respond to that by asking: Are you in regular contact with known terrorists, Al-Queda members, or dialing numbers connected to known terrorists? If so, then yes, the NSA, not George Bush, is listening to your internationa calls trying to determine if you or the person you are talking to might be planning something nasty)

The follow-up headline for the article inside went even further(no pun intended) asking the question:

Has George Bush Gone to Far?

It is obvious Time has deftly picked up on the talking points from the left by framing the issue over the NSA's surveillance of phone calls between persons/citizens in the U.S. and known terrorist phone numbers abroad as though the President is spying on Americans. It should be noted that first of all, Bush is not personally spying on Americans or anyone else for that matter. The inclusion of George Bush in that statement cast the President as some kind of Orwellian dictator who is personally listening the conversations of ordinary citizens in an effort to control their lives or punish them for dissent. Although we are still in the dark about many of the techinical details, the best information points to the use of computers to scan target transmissions for keywords and compile it for review as in any intelligence gathering operation. Bush, the NSA, the DOD, nor the CIA are "spying" on Americans as much as listening for threatening information which might be used to thwart an attack. While I am a staunch small government advocate, I do not see where using previously gathered information on terrorists phone numbers to scan calls destined for those numbers in an effort to see if someone is planning another 9/11 is outside of the scope of the Federal government in its role as defender of the naiton. The second aspect is the personalization of the line by making the reader feel as though they are being spied upon. Since I never make international calls I can assume I have not been eavesdropped upon unless there is more than we are being told. The inside headline also frames the President as though he is running amok with Presidential power and this time he has crossed some sacrosanct line. I have seen no evidence that we are perched upon some slippery slope on the verge of being thrust into rabid 1984-esque government surveillance.

The problem with the framing of the issue in this manner is it has nothing to do with the real issue at heart: the legality of the program. I have read numerous pieces on both sides about whether or not the program was legal. Based on my reading of the issue, I think the program falls on the legal side, though there may be aspects of it which cross certain legal thresholds. The other problem with framing the issue this way is the way Time chose to put it on the front cover the same way US Weekly splashes headlines like: "Jessica Walks Out on Nick." Passing customers in the grocery store see the headline and assume because it is on the front cover of Time assume it must be true. Most Americans are not news/political junkies. They capture their news in small bits from a daily newspaper, the network or cable news(which are both routinesly liberal in spin and presentation) or what they see on a magazine stand while waiting to check out. For Time to cast the issue in such a light, with provactive words inviting images of 1984 and "Big Brother" is grossly irresponsible and a cheap tabloid trick in an effort to raise sales.

Time should have asked questions which carried greater neutrailty and were more on target as to the actual issue at hand. By asking questions like this, they lay out certain premises and establish them as fact which must then be consequently rejected. In the article Time makes every effort to confirm the original premise that a power abusing Bush is spying on Americans. The author engages in crictizing the Bush administration as power abusers and ones who completely disregard Federal courts and laws in a mad rush to gain more power.

If someone wants a startling example of Orwell's 1984 they should look no further than Time magazine and the "newspeak" quality of the articles therein.

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