In a 73-23 vote, the Senate renewed America's warrantless wiretapping program begun under the George W. Bush administration. And it did so by defeating an amendment from Senator Ron Wyden which would have made FISA more transparent and brought it in line with the Fourth Amendment.
In a smart post titled "Why Are People More Scared of Facebook Violating Their Privacy Than Washington?" Scott Shackford noted the stark absence of this story in U.S. media outlets:
The traditional media response to the reauthorization battle has been remarkably nonexistent...There’s currently nothing on the New York Times web site about the votes (either yesterday’s or today’s). The Associated Press wrote a story about the House’s vote in September but nothing yet from yesterday or today. The Washington Post did post a story this morning. A Google news search will land hits with mostly tech or web-based media outlets.
Compare the lack of response to the way people react to privacy breaches connected to Facebook or Twitter. Media outlet after media outlet carried reports about a private picture of Randi Zuckerberg, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s sister, accidentally being made public somehow through social media channels. And how many of your Facebook friends posted that silly, pointless “privacy notice” on their walls?
While Shackford is smart to note the disparity, he argues that the U.S. media's relative silence on the issue of FISA's reauthorization is not entirely the media's fault. After all, he observes, journalistic outlets are merely responding to the desires of its readership. See, Facebook is something with which we all have experience, and it is thus easy to make a narrative connection with readers when a privacy snafu arises.
However, FISA and warrantless wiretapping – covert surveillance – is difficult to make narratively engaging.
While I don't necessarily disagree with the observation, I reject this as an excuse for those media outlets which did not cover today's Congressional suppression of our Constitutional rights. Indeed, because of the story's importance, The New York Times and others have a responsibility not just to report it, but to create a narratively engaging article that highlights just how essential and human a story this is.
After all, if journalists reported only upon those things which readers have proven are click-worthy, then we are no longer talking about journalism.
We are talking about entertainment.
Which is precisely the problem with much of contemporary journalism. The focus all too often is on what readers (and sources) want, not on what is in the public good.
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