by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
In what is most certainly a “dog bites man” story, rather than the more journalistically coveted “man bites dog” alternative, Richard Benedetto documents for Real Clear Politics the latest instance in which mainstream media outlets have treated the 44th president much more gently than his predecessor.
In recent days, there has been discussion about how Democrats and liberals, once severe critics of anti-terror surveillance programs when Republican President George W. Bush was conducting them, have been more careful, and less critical, when responding to the massive data collection sweeps that have come to light under President Obama.
“It is jarring to see the left so compliant now that the surveillance has been sanctioned by a Democratic president,” Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wrote Sunday.
Milbank raised a valid point. But perhaps even more “jarring” are the carefully chosen, softer words used by the news media when reporting on the Obama program, compared to the inflammatory and alarmist language used when his predecessor was in charge.
When news broke in December 2005 that the Bush administration was engaged in phone wiretaps (without court orders) against suspected terrorists, the major news outlets almost immediately labeled the program “domestic spying.”
“In address, Bush says he ordered domestic spying,” said a Page One headline in The New York Times on Dec. 18, 2005.
The Washington Post, reporting on the same radio address, used similar wording in its headline: “President says he ordered NSA domestic spying.”
The Times and Post news articles each went on to use the word “spying” — which has dark, sinister connotations — four more times, although Bush, in his speech, never used it once. The Post followed up with an editorial: “Spying on Americans.” …
… Fast-forward to June 2013. Obama, thanks to an explosive leak by a National Security Agency contractor, finds himself embroiled in a similar flap over the gathering of domestic intelligence. This time, he is in charge of what appears to be the most sweeping “domestic spying” mission ever undertaken. “Unprecedented” is a word Obama likes to use. That’s what it is. And while the news media have not shied away from covering the controversial program and its citizen-privacy ramifications, the style, tone and use of language are far different from the Bush days.
Mostly gone from the reporting is the loaded phrase “domestic spying.” Instead, we find a flurry of euphemisms such as “call monitoring,” “data collection,” “data mining,” “data gathering” and “electronic surveillance.” Most news outlets that continue to use the word “spying” when referring to the current U.S. intelligence gathering programs are foreign newspapers and broadcasters.
Perhaps it’s hard to admit you’ve been suckered by a false messiah.