U.S. Senator Rand Paul spent part of Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union talking with Jake Tapper about the problems of the FISA reauthorization. It was a good discussion with Paul saying President Donald Trump erred in signing the reauthorization bill into law. He also explained the problems with the FISA database, and how innocent Americans end up in it. The problem is this discussion came a week late.
The reauthorization of FISA was a blip on the radar in DC last week, with most of the media discussing the votes after the fact, or in reference to Sara Carter’s story on a possible House Intelligence report looking into FISA abuse. It’s an extremely frustrating and irksome reality for privacy advocates who have been discussing the problems with the spying program in the days leading up to the votes. Senators Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Elizabeth Warren, and Ron Wyden should have been all over the media on Monday and Tuesday explaining why it was awful Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wouldn’t allow amendments on the bill. The fact the Senate barely approved the legislation via procedural vote should have been the lead, or at least warranted greater discussion, especially since the White House had to send National Intelligence Director Dan Coats to Capitol Hill to twist arms.
But that didn’t happen. The focus Monday and Tuesday was on whether Trump actually said “sh*thole countries,” and then whether Trump was physically and mentally fit to be president. CNN had Dr. Sanjay Gupta discuss Trump possibly having heart disease, while Sean Hannity crowed on Fox News Trump was healthy and it was the media which needed to have its heads examined. The debate was on whether Trump weighed what he claimed to weigh, instead of issues which were more important. I saw one person say on Twitter the physical mattered because it was possible the White House doctor lied. That’s fine, but what happens when the entire government may be lying about the benefits of the FISA program. Let’s also not forget the coverage of New Jersey Senator Cory Booker’s treatment of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen during a Senate hearing. Why wasn’t Booker asked why he didn’t ask Nielsen about FISA, since she is the head of DHS? Why was Illinois Senator Dick Durbin not asked about FISA? Why was the focus on DACA, which expires in March, when FISA was scheduled to expire last week, before re-authorization. It just doesn’t make sense.
The closest to actual talk on FISA came when Texas Senator John Cornyn wrote a CNN op-ed Thursday on why FISA had to be reauthorized, and this was after the procedural vote. Yet, CNN declined to have Cornyn on any of their shows to talk FISA. Great work, media (note sarcasm). FISA reauthorization was thrown to the background because everyone was fighting on things which may or may not really be important.
One thing Cato’s Patrick G. Eddington told me was Bill of Rights issues really aren’t important, unless “it’s to attack law abiding gun owners whenever there’s a mass shooting by a random psycho,” and he’s right. The media is far more concerned with emotion or something which can get people talking. The idea of having a deep discussion on constitutional issues aren’t a thing unless there’s scandal involved, hence Hannity’s talk days later on possible FISA abuse.
The media should know better, but it’s not surprising. News outlets have long preferred the salacious instead of discussions of actual importance. George Washington was criticized for not getting involved in the French Revolution. The run up to the election of 1828 featured mudslinging of all kinds, with arguments Andrew Jackson’s wife was a bigamist, and John Quincy Adams’ alleged purchase of “gambling items,” for the White House with government money. The Meese Report in the 80’s studied pornography. Democrats these days like to say people are going to die, when something happens, whether it’s a government shutdown, Net Neutrality being repealed, or tax cuts.
Media outlets have every right to cover what they want, when they want. It’s the nature of the free press and the First Amendment. But it’s maddening when they decide to ignore constitutional issues to focus on issues which may or may not be important, like presidential physicals. It allows the government to get away with passing unconstitutional programs, like FISA.