FISA and PRISM: A catalogue of journalistic malfeasance

While the story as reported sounds like normal journalistic practice, it is not. For one, there is still no evidence about how many other phone companies have been compelled to hand over their records. On Twitter, Greenwald wrote, “The program we exposed is the collection of all American’s [sic] phone records.” That isn’t true — he exposed the collection of Verizon’s records. The only evidence that this is an ongoing, long-standing program involving other telecos is a statement by Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Diane Feinstein and various anonymous leaks to national security reporters.

“NOBODY thought [the Patriot Act] enabled mass, indiscriminate, bulk collection of all Americans’ records,” Greenwald wrote on Twitter later. This statement, too, beggars belief: The assumption that the Patriot Act does underlies nearly all opposition to it, and has since 2001. Moreover, the metadata Verizon hands over to the NSA is legally collectible: Not only is it protected by a 1979 Supreme Court decision, but it has a clear law enforcement function as well. …

The Guardian isn’t the only paper to have been caught up in the sexiness of the Snowden leaks. The Washington Post also had to walk back much of its early reporting. Over the weekend, CNET got caught misreporting comments Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) made about NSA surveillance. In their initial story, they reported he had said the NSA told him they could listen to phone calls without a warrant. In fact, Rep. Nadler said nothing of the sort and had to rush out a clarification to reporters.