Saturday, December 24, 2005

DEPT. OF EXEGESIS In a Friday dispatch that obscures more than it illuminates, Douglas Jehl of The New York Times hews closely to the Republican talking points on the NSA eavesdropping story.

Jehl seems to have been tasked with exploring how lawmakers reacted, initially, to briefings about domestic NSA eavesdropping. The article, written under the headline "Among Those Told of Program, Few Objected," opens with a simple claim:

As members of Congress seek more information about the eavesdropping program authorized by President Bush, their requests are being complicated by the fact that Congressional leaders in both parties acquiesced in the operation.
And yet it isn't until paragraph nineteen that a full picture of the Democratic reaction emerges: Out of the seven briefed lawmakers, three contend that they objected at the time, three say their briefings were misleading and incomplete, and one could not be reached for comment.

In other words, all of the Democrats who have spoken on the record allege that they objected to the program, or would have objected had the administration been honest about its scope.

That sounds like something a bit more complicated than Jehl's paragraph one claim that "leaders in both parties acquiesced." But that's the impression Jehl leaves with readers who give the article a quick scan.

(Earlier in the story--within the first seven paragraphs--readers are treated to quotes from two Republican congressmen condemning Democrats for reacting with outrage after originally remaining silent. There wasn't any room in the piece, apparently, for a Democratic response to those charges.)

Why did Jehl bury his lede? Does he think the Democrats are lying? If so, why didn't he marshall evidence to support that belief?

And if no such evidence exists, does it really make sense to give the benefit of the doubt to an administration that has lied about this program repeatedly--even since it's existence was disclosed?

How many whoppers do they have to tell before their claims receive a little more scrutiny?

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.