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Fox on PATRIOT: A Video Fisking

October 6th, 2009 · 25 Comments

Addendum: I guess the folks claiming Democrats want to repeal those PATRIOT provisions missed the Senate’s hearings, where Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) says, right around 165 minutes in:

Your testimony concludes in very all-or-nothing fashion that the roving wiretap authority, the  215 order authority, and the lone wolf authority should all be continued, should be reauthorized. I don’t know that there’s any doubt anywhere in this committee that that’s the case. I think the question more is in reauthorizing them, are there further refinements?

Update: Looks like we can add Dick Morris and Eileen McGann of TownHall to the list of bold PATRIOT Act defenders who play pundit without the most rudimentary idea of what they’re talking about. I would love to be able to have the serious argument about whether and why safeguards or oversight should be structured a certain way, but PATRIOT boosters need to stop making the same tedious set of basic factual errors first…

Yet liberal Democrats are fighting the renewal of the roving wiretap authority as part of a broad offensive against the very PATRIOT Act provisions that have kept us safe (often by narrow margins) since 9-11.

Funnily enough, no. Go read Russ Feingold’s bill: Roving wiretap authority is in it.  Needless to say, it’s in every other bill Democrats have proposed as well. Exactly nobody is arguing against the renewal of this power.  There’s some argument over how precisely a FISA warrant should have to specify a particular target before it gets to “rove” over multiple phonelines and accounts, but no real dispute about the existence of the power as such.

Other liberal targets include the statute that allows terror investigators to apply for court orders to search business records in national security investigations. The Democrats want to limit this authority to instances in which investigators can prove that their target is an agent of a foreign power.

Strike two. The proposal—which is sadly not even in the Democratic bill at present—was to require investigators to have some reason—a “reasonable basis”—to believe the target is an agent of a foreign power.  Or in contact with a foreign power. Or that the records at least relate to the “activities” of a foreign power.  Any one would do.

Another sunsetting provision under attack is the so-called “lone wolf authority,” which allows investigators to launch a probe even if they cannot prove, before they start, that the target is connected to a terrorist group. Again, the liberals would put the horse before the cart and demand proof before an inquiry could begin.

This is so stupid I’m almost embarrassed for them. Even under the “lone wolf” provision you need probable cause to believe your target is engaged in (or preparing to engage in) terrorist acts—a significantly higher standard than the “reasonable basis” I mentioned earlier. You need this “probable cause”—not normally referred to as “proof”—because we live in a funny old “free society” where we expect the government to obtain “warrants” based on “evidence” before they enjoy the ability to break into people’s homes or tap their phones. The truly terrifying thing is that the authors, apparently misapprehending current law, seem to think this too high a bar—to think that investigators do and should enjoy Stasilike powers that even in the post-9/11 panic Congress was too sane to contemplate. Obviously, investigators do have other means of acquiring evidence (or “launching probes”) in order to establish the probable cause for a FISA warrant, which confers those extraordinary powers of electronic surveillance and physical search.

The fact is that there has not been a single instance of reported abuse of these investigative powers by counter-terrorist agents.

Did they even Google? Do they assume their readers are too stupid to Google? Two consecutive Inspector General reports found rampant misuse of National Security Letters. Russ Feingold has suggested that classified briefings have disclosed uses of 215 orders that he considers abuses—though they haven’t been reported to the rest of us, being classified and all.

Seriously, it’s one thing to be wrong on an issue, or even to make an error or two in the course of a column. It’s quite another to purport to inform people about a topic without doing the kind of elementary research you’d expect from a half-bright highschooler turning in a homework assignment. Aren’t any of the site’s visitors even a little offended by this level of brazen contempt for the audience?

Tags: Journalism & the Media · Privacy and Surveillance



25 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Greg N. // Oct 6, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    This is fantastic, Julian. But I know what’s really going on here. The big question: Who’s giving this to Maddow?

  • 2 Julian Sanchez // Oct 6, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    No, no. Dave, Chris, and Spencer have Maddow; I need to branch out. I’m thinking The View.

  • 3 Greg N. // Oct 6, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    Even better!

  • 4 Fact Check on FOX News’ Misleading PATRIOT Act Reporting | Left to chance // Oct 6, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    […] Fact Check on FOX News’ Misleading PATRIOT Act Reporting Unfortunately, it appears that the only television news network that’s been regularly covering the PATRIOT Act renewal process in Congress has been FOX News, and their coverage has seemed a lot more like pro-PATRIOT propaganda than unbiased news reporting. Fortunately, Julian Sanchez of The Cato Institute has been fact-checking them closely, in this detailed blog post and in this illuminating video: […]

  • 5 Emily // Oct 6, 2009 at 10:14 pm


  • 6 silentbeep // Oct 6, 2009 at 10:39 pm

    Dude, you are too good for The View. You’d make Sherri’s head explode.

    Very cool.

  • 7 TurkoAmericano // Oct 7, 2009 at 3:18 am

    My favorite part is the hyper-nerdy Prisoner reference at the end.

    Seriously, though, keep up the excellent work.

  • 8 Julian Sanchez Goes After Fox « Get FISA Right // Oct 7, 2009 at 4:04 am

    […] empathize with this lament from Sanchez: I would love to be able to have the serious argument about whether and why safeguards or oversight […]

  • 9 Chaz // Oct 7, 2009 at 7:25 am

    Dude. I follow you on Arstechnica and reda most of your stuff and this was excellent. But clean your room.

  • 10 Julian Sanchez // Oct 7, 2009 at 7:54 am

    Geez, I didn’t even think it was that bad. There’s always a bunch of magazines on the table and a bunch of dvds stacked up next to the speakers… I guess maybe the records look cluttered.

  • 11 silentbeep // Oct 7, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    I have a semi-messy room myself, so I could care less about the state of your room Julian, but I thought this was funny:

    “Julian, Put The Rock Band Controller Away
    By: Spencer Ackerman Tuesday October 6, 2009 3:05 pm

    it’s getting in the way of your devastating PATRIOT report “

  • 12 MichaelT // Oct 7, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Great report! Applause in a loud and supportive mode!!

  • 13 C // Oct 7, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    So for serious. . .
    Great stuff. BUT, I gotta believe you went a little easy on them. I don’t mean to pee in your cheerios or be insulting, but you’re a young guy, yes, a journalist, and deep into the political scene . . . I guess what I’m saying is that yes, you’re talented and smart, but surely you’re not the only talented, smart person around who could uncover the information you present here.

    Particularly in the current jobs market, surely it can’t be that expensive for Fox or any other “newsertainment” network to put a smart, tuned-in researcher on staff. I can’t believe they just don’t know any better. Deliberate, easily rectified ignorance is intent.

    And for real, dude, you need to clean your living room.

    Keep up the good work.

    Also, when you said “Fun Fact,” I had to listen three times because I could have sworn you said “F@*$ That!”

  • 14 Progressive Nation » Blog Archive » Faux News: Bending Polls Into Breaking News // Oct 7, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    […] For more on how Fox News is often respon­si­ble for pass­ing on bad infor­ma­tion about ter­ror­ism and the law, con­sult Cato’s Julian Sanchez. […]

  • 15 A Fox News Poll on Our America-Hating President | GSA Schedule Services // Oct 7, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    […] For more on how Fox News is often responsible for passing on bad information about terrorism and the law, consult Cato’s Julian Sanchez. […]

  • 16 Dee Thompson // Oct 12, 2009 at 3:02 am

    Sorry, I came in late on this one. And thens there that bit about how I have never wrote on one these things before and I’m sure I’ll do something dumb so please bear with me. Having said all that, first I would like to say: Great Work Julian, Congrats. It’s so rare to read somsthing so inciteful with FOX News as the main theme. Second, whoever is getting ahold of Aunt Rachel might wamt to CC Uncle Keith and Uncle Chris. I say this now but the truth be told they proably all already know. And last but not least to silentbeep; dare I point out that Sherry’s head is nothing but dead air space in the first place, but Elizabeth however….. Just a few rambling thoughts form an old lady. I do gotta say that we all knew that Nixon was paranoid but the Republican Party these days could teach him a few points. For the most part, they have always been a bunch of mean sprited, I’ve got mine and the Hell with yours kinda fun group but Damn! Some days I just can’t credit anything I’ve heard them say until I see it twice and hear it three times. I can’t believe that any of them really think that even the late Mrs. Shivo would take them at their word. The Representative from Florida, whose name I can’t think of at the moment, ( I did say I was an OLD lady), but if you are watching Aunt Rachel I know you know about him. Back to the OT, when he stood up and told the pubs to kiss off and why; it was the most honest thing I’ve heard out of D.C. in just about forever. I live in southeastern Michigan and you gotta know that everbody around listens to anything and everything they can coming out of Washington. Even the idiots that we sent there. Well now that I have bored everyone to death, I will close now. However I must say it really is nice to read all of your comments, moreso knowing none of you are old enough to be that smart yet.

  • 17 The Agitator » Blog Archive » Morning Links // Oct 12, 2009 at 7:24 am

    […] Julian Sanchez video-fisks Fox News coverage of the PATRIOT Act renewal. Also, “fisking video” sounds like something dirty. […]

  • 18 Obama Sides with Republicans; PATRIOT Act Renewal Bill Passes Senate Judiciary Committee Minus Critical Civil Liberties Reforms « Wake-up Call // Oct 14, 2009 at 12:25 am

    […] http://www.juliansanchez.com/2009/10/06/fox-on-patriot-a-video-fisking/For the full details: […]

  • 19 nintendo ds r4 // Oct 23, 2009 at 7:29 am

    I didn’t even think it was that bad. There’s always a bunch of magazines on the table and a bunch of dvds stacked up next to the speakers

  • 20 NewsAffair » Fox Misleads its Own Viewers, Again, and Again, and Again // Jan 29, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    […] illustrated be a resident Fellow from the otherwise often industry supporting CATO Institute, where Fox simply doesn’t know the basic facts on the critical issue of fundamental American […]

  • 21 Epistemic Closure, Technology, and the End of Distance // Apr 7, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    […] issues where I’m prone to agree with progressives—so I’m more conscious of it when Fox spins fantasies about the Patriot Act than when MSNBC spins on economics or health care—but I don’t think […]

  • 22 Close Your Mind And The Rest Will Follow « Around The Sphere // Apr 14, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    […] about the issues where I’m prone to agree with progressives—so I’m more conscious of it when Fox spins fantasies about the Patriot Act than when MSNBC spins on economics or health care—but I don’t think […]

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