Major Media: Whistling Past the Wreckage of Civil Liberties

From Common Dreams:

Watchdogs slept through a decade of rollback

by Janine Jackson
Published on Friday, September 9, 2011 by Extra! Magazine

When the USA Patriot Act* was rushed into law after the September 11 attacks, the erosion of civil liberties the Act represented—the broad powers it gave law enforcement to spy on people, and the creation of the dangerously ill-defined crime of “domestic terrorism”—met with little detailed scrutiny or principled challenge from major media.

Typical at the time was a Today show segment (NBC, 10/27/01) in which anchor Soledad O’Brien grilled a concerned legal advocate, “But, certainly, isn’t there a sense in wartime that you have to give up some of your privacies, especially when you’re talking about terrorists who exploited the free-doms that America offers in order to perpetuate their terrorist acts?”

When provisions of the Patriot Act were extended in May 2011, most people didn’t hear even a lopsided debate. NBC Nightly News (5/27/11), for one, focused its report on the presidential autopen used to sign the legislation.

The intervening decade has seen an expansion in federal law enforcement powers, combined with a cloaking of their operations, that is startling to many. The Bill of Rights Defense Committee’s Shahid Buttar (Truthout, 4/15/11) notes that Patriot Act provisions have been reauthorized three times “despite an equal number of Justice Department reports revealing massive and systemic abuses.”

Throughout this time, elite media’s fealty to official rationales and their anemic defense of the public’s rights have amounted to dereliction of duty. Writ large, it has meant accepting the undefined, unending “war on terror” as a challenge-proof premise for significant changes to U.S. law and policy, and dutifully censoring information the White House (whoever’s in it) wants held back, be it evidence of illegal wiretapping (Extra! Update, 2/06) or the location of a secret war’s drone base (FAIR Blog, 7/27/11).

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