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January 04, 2006

Brilliant Rejoinder To The NYT @ NRO

Andrew McCarthy dismantles the Times' newest attempt to get the public fussed about the NSA intercept case.

Short version: He rides them harder than he rode Molly Ringwald at the end of the unrated director's cut of Pretty In Pink.

Longer version: They attempt to stir flagging public interest by revealing that the NSA has been harvesting all sorts of information without warrants... like what calls were placed, from what number, to what number, and for how long.

The trouble is: this information has never been constitutionally protected -- a 1979 decision held that a person could not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in such information, and thus the Fouth Amendment, and its warrant provisions, simply don't apply. The content of a call is protected by the 4th A (usually), but not the simple fact that a call was made at all.

The Times never gets around to mentioning that.

Those who rely on the putative "Paper of Record" will not know that. That important fact -- dispositive upon the whole question of the data-harvesting's legality -- has been withheld from them entirely. And they won't ever hear of it, unless they read the alternative/conservative media.

Which most people simply do not.

We're living in two entirely different universes of information now. This partly explains David Letterman's cluelessness about Cindy Sheehan calling Iraqi terrorists -- the same men who killed her son -- "freedom fighters," and guessing that that was "crap." The MSM simply doesn't report such things-- if they mention them at all, they do so obliquely and vaguely, like conceding that Sheehan has "made controversial statements which have angered the right wing." (That's an invented quote, by the way, as an example of the sort of thing they write.) They don't often report precisely what she's said, so that the average news-consumer can decide for himself whether the statement in question is odious. More likely than not, he'll simply assume she expressed some mild criticism of Bush's Iraq policy which the "extreme right wing" has gotten itself in a lather over.

I find it more and more difficult to talk to my non-conservative friends about politics. Not because of anger -- we don't fight over such matters -- but simply because I find myself telling them facts that they've never read before, never seen on Brian Williams before, and simply do not believe to be true. The assumption is that they are simply made up out of whole cloth by disreputable right-wing fabulist propagandists spreading complete fictions to the gullible right wingers.

Any intelligent discussion must at some point move beyond the facts. The facts must be more or less conceded by both parties so that the more interesting part of the discussion -- what those facts may mean, what relevance and disposition to attach to any fact, what values are in play and how each should be weighed -- may procede.

For years the MSM provided a common universe of facts for the country to discuss and debate. True, those facts were highly selective and often strongly biased towards the liberal side of the debate, but most people accepted them as the nucleus of any political discussion.

That's changed. With a proliferating alternative media and a MSM becoming more desperate and dishonest in presenting its one side of the issue, we now are separated not merely by beliefs, assumptions, values, and priorities, but by a very wide gulf over what the factual matrix of the political universe even looks like at all.

This is not helping debate, but simply making it more contentious, as the words "liar" ("I don't believe you") or "idiot" ("How could you not know that?") are tossed out with greater frequency, and people retreat more and more into the particular fact-universe they're more comfortable in, rarely sampling what other less-reported facts might be out there to consider.

It's worse on the liberal side. Conservative news-junkies have to know the basics of the MSM fact-pattern, because we spend all of our time critiquing it, contextualizing it, and sometimes disproving it entirely. We're not as up on some stuff as early as we should be (for example, I'm still catching up on this whole Abramoff business; I have little doubt a liberal news-junkie could school me in it at this point), but by the time issues become ripe, we have a good working knowlege of both the "official" MSM-championed line and the unofficial, Shadow Media critique of that line. Liberals -- actually, all non-conservatives who rely almost exclusively on the MSM for what news they get -- know only the former.

Going back to the old way of doing business -- with the MSM simply selecting which facts are to be known, and which are to be kept secret, for fear of "confusing" the masses -- is intolerable, and will not happen in any event. But we find ourselves now more separated than ever, like Britain and America, two countries divided by a common language.

I guess the only resolution to this problem is for the MSM to begin -- finally! -- doing its actual job and reporting all relevant facts, no matter which way they might cut, in a neutral and dispassionate manner.

Which is to say: there's no near-term resolution at all.

And, as I always suspected, it's largely Andrew McCarthy's fault.

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posted by Ace at 12:22 PM

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