Obama Renews Patriot Act and the NYT Fails to Mention It

Written by Kevin Mooney   
Tuesday, 09 March 2010 11:09

From TimesCheck.com:

So President Bush was right after all? The Patriot Act has been reauthorized for at least one more year by a Democratic congress and a Democratic president. The counter-terrorism law came in for severe criticism during the Bush years but coverage of its renewal under President Obama has thurs far earned a paucity of coverage…

President Obama has signed off on a one year extension of The Patriot Act that won overwhelming congressional approval just over a week ago; not that anyone reading The New York Times would know.

Throughout the Bush years, The Times editorialized vociferously against key provisions of the counter-terrorism law and gave wide latitude to critics from the American Civil Liberties Union and other left-leaning institutions.

A Nexis search shows that in both the 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns The Times repeatedly called out the Bush Administration for using The Patriot Act as a tool to violate constitutional provisos.

There is a healthy debate within the framework of the conservative movement circles over the merits post 9/11 laws that expand government powers. Some credit The Patriot Act for giving federal agents the tools they need to block additional attacks on the U.S. homeland, while others fear that surveillance powers can be turned back against political dissenters.

Meanwhile, polls show that the public has mixed views but is generally supportive of aggressive counter-terrorism where the threat is specific and detailed

But there is no denying the antipathy The Times expressed toward The Patriot Act in its editorials and overall coverage. Now that a Democrat is in The White House signing off on Bush policies there appears to be less in the way of consternation toward counter-terrorism.

The following snippet from an editorial that ran just before Bush was re-elected in Oct. 2004 argues against any expansion of the act:

“We’re certain to hear Mr. Bush call many times before Nov. 2 for the Patriot Act to be renewed. Republicans in the House are trying to add expansions of the act to the intelligence reform bill. But everything we’ve learned since Sept. 11, 2001, shows that this is a time to review, revise and provide more oversight over the extraordinary powers of federal authorities, not to expand them.”

A news article published that same month entitled: “Bush Aide Calls Criticism of the Patriot Act Uninformed” is dismissive of administration arguments in favor of legislation and includes the usually commentary from the ACLU.

“It’s ironic that the same Department of Justice that has misled the public about the Patriot Act would complain that the public has been misled,” said Gregory Nojeim, associate director of the Washington legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union.

After quoting a top official who says that counter-terror agents sometimes need extra latitude to seize library records and other information as part of their investigation, The Times immediately pivots into the counter-argument.

“….civil liberties advocates, who have pushed for the repeal of secret intelligence warrants under the library records provision, argue that federal authorities can already use standard criminal warrants at libraries if they have evidence linking a suspect to terrorism.”

Another article that celebrates a federal district court ruling that strikes down a Patriot Act provision allowing for the secret subpoenas of Internet data invokes additional commentary from the ACLU.

“Anthony Romero, executive director of the A.C.L.U., called the ruling a `stunning victory against John Ashcroft’s Justice Department.’ He said it would reinforce arguments the group had made in a separate challenge in Michigan to another surveillance section of the act.”

A Sept. 24 2004 editorial entitled “In Defense of Civil Liberties” offers up a sharp rebuke to President Bush, his attorney general and members of congress who have become overly compliant and “soft” in their duties, according to The Times.

“Mr. Bush has tried to sweep aside the Constitution by declaring selected American citizens to be unlawful combatants and jailing them indefinitely; Mr. Ashcroft’s Justice Department produced the appalling memo justifying the torture of prisoners,” the editorial declares. “It was also responsible for, among other things, jailing a lawyer from Portland, Ore., on charges of international terrorism based on a misreading of his fingerprints and, apparently, on his religious beliefs. The administration set up a detention camp in Guantanamo Bay where minimal standards of justice have been suspended or eliminated altogether.”

Certainly The Times is entitled to its editorial perspective but as history comes full circle in the war on terrorism it would seem now is the opportune moment to either credit Bush or reprove Obama.