Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Getting It Right

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Getting It Right

Article excerpt


Does the public understand the 'USA Patriot Act'? Does the press?

Counseling the press on how to provide more depth and context to the increasingly complex news, Loren Ghiglione, dean of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, wrote in the Oct. 31 issue of Melville, N.Y.-based Newsday, "Journalism schools should train specialists with expertise in the sciences, the military, business, and international relations to ... become the reporters of the 21st-century world."

He omitted the need for knowledge about the law, particularly constitutional law, although reporting on the Bill of Rights and the rest of the Constitution is a fundamental part of our job.

Hours after President Bush signed the far-reaching anti-terrorism bill -- overwhelmingly passed by Congress, with only Russell Feingold, D- Wis., dissenting in the Senate -- White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer held his regular press conference.

There were no probing questions about the new 140-page law. The same was true on the Sunday morning TV talk shows thereafter. For most newspapers, this extensive expansion of government surveillance powers has not been sufficiently detailed in stories about the law. How many Americans know about the secret searches of homes and offices authorized in the USA Patriot Act?

To begin, because of the significantly loosened standards for electronic surveillance -- of home computers, e-mail, and all kinds of telephones -- there is now very limited judicial oversight of the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies.

Moreover, previously secret grand-jury testimony can now be shared by various intelligence agencies. The grand jury, as has been said, is the prosecutor's playground. Also, under the new law, the CIA, now allowed to share in loosely defined intelligence data, is again enabled to spy on Americans here at home -- without a court order -- despite the CIA's previous abuse of the Constitution in its domestic adventures.

Particularly ominous is the return of what were called in J. Edgar Hoover's time "black bag jobs" -- secret searches by the FBI, done without warrants. Burglars with badges.

Now, even with search warrants, as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) pointed out, this provision "would allow law-enforcement agencies to delay giving notice when they conduct a search. ... The government could enter a house, apartment, or office when the occupant is away, search through her property and take photographs, and, in some cases, seize physical property and electronic communications, and not tell her until later. …

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