By lex, on October 26th, 2006

On the way home today, NPR was reading their mail on air, they do it every Thursday. People who write letters to radio stations tend to be enthusiasts, and NPR’s mail is usually pretty evenly split between those who just think everything they do is simply marvelous! and those who object to the very occasional attempt – usually when federal budgets (including, one suspects, subsidies to public radio) are being debated in Congress – by the NPR editorial staff to inject a little political balance into their otherwise lightly skewed reporting. Regular NPR I mean. Not Pacifica radio.

They must not get many letters from people like me, or if they do I don’t guess they read many of them on the air, every Thursday. In any case, I only wrote in once, more in exasperation than true anger and they didn’t read my letter. It had to do with the story about the NSA’s monitoring of terrorist-linked phone calls from overseas back into the US – a highly classified program unveiled by the New York Times, and quickly adumbrated by a full-throated media chorus first as a “warrantless” and then “illegal” kind of “domestic” wiretapping scheme and denounced as pretty much the Worst Thing Ever that any president had ever done. Ever. At least since the Times also outed the secret CIA flights in Europe and right until whatever it was that came up next popped into view. The SWIFT banking program I believe it was. Which article the Times‘ ombudsman has recently rowed back away from * supporting, but not before firing a rather graceless “Bush made me do it” fade-away jump shot. But these are quibbles.

Back when this previously quite secret (and successful) program was erupting into the open – the NSA one, I mean, can’t you just get lost in all the secret programs the Times has blown? – a local NPR correspondent referred to it as the “President’s domestic spying program,” or some such language very close to that. I huffed an email back to him asking him to drive up to the domestic passenger terminal at LAX and try his luck catching the next flight to Pakistan, see where that’d get him. It cannot be a “domestic” program was my point, if one leg of it is overseas. That pretty much is what “international” means. One country to the other.

That word “domestic.” I do not think it means what you think it means. But it does sound cooler, doesn’t it? When you put it that way.

I felt a very (little) bit better about having written my email later. Not that it would change any minds certainly, and I harbored only momentary illusions that it might be read on the radio. It just felt like speaking truth to smug-ness, which is work well worth doing if only for the personal satisfaction that’s in it.

The story bubbled up again when a Detroit jurist wrote what even opponents of the program had to concede was one of the most implausibly reasoned legal decisions since Dred Scott – a decision that same New York Times had to twist itself into contortions to laud as “a careful, thoroughly grounded opinion,” thereby throwing in their reputational lot with the soon-to-be-swatted Judge Anna Diggs Taylor. Which they might have wanted to think that one through a little more clearly since the feds were immediately granted a stay on appeal by the 6th Circuit.

And then the story just… died.

Back in February there were people calling for the President’s head. Crowds in the street. Glenn Greenwald banging his spoon on the high chair. When he wasn’t pseudonymously patting himself on the back. Dark rumors of impeachment.

Don’t you see? The President was BREAKING THE LAW!!! There was real outrage there for a while.

Now it’s pretty much gone. The program is still on-going. The Republic endures. There are only 59 shopping days ’til Christmas.

So I wonder, when a story gets flogged like this one did, generating all the heat (and the very little light) that it did, and all the seemingly genuine outrage that goes with it – when a story like this dies a quiet death, is it because

1) It never really was alive,

2) It was alive, and damned cute as a baby, but got kind of, you know: Ugly as a teenager. Pity,

3) It was alive, but got abandoned once the mileage ran out,

4) It could have lived, but we couldn’t put any miles on it because it just didn’t get the right kind of traction,

5) The white-hot fires of partisan outrage have to be stoked, so throw another log on, brother,


6) What is it we were talking about?

* 07-16-2008  Link Gone; no replacements found – Ed.

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Media, Neptunus Lex

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