The U.S. Government and Political Surveillance

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In theory, a free press serves as a valuable watchdog against government officials who wield enormous power and are prone to abuse it. In practice, the media establishment prefers acting as a watchdog on behalf of people in government. How else to explain this week’s disparate treatment of two stories about federal surveillance? Media folk are more angry at a television host who claims that the government spies on him than they are at a former FBI official who admitted that he fabricated evidence that allowed the government to spy on a U.S. citizen.

As for the television host, Tucker Carlson of the Fox News Channel said on Monday:

Yesterday, we heard from a whistleblower within the U.S. government who reached out to warn us that the NSA, the National Security Agency, is monitoring our electronic communications and is planning to leak them in an attempt to take this show off the air.

Much of the press corps immediately began demanding that Mr. Carlson provide more than an anonymous source for the allegation. Fair enough, and one can only imagine how much healthier our public discourse would be if they had applied the same standard to coverage of allegations against Donald Trump.

As for the Carlson claim, a reporter raised it with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki today, according to the official transcript:

Q… Tucker Carlson said that the NSA is spying on him. Is the administration aware of any espionage or listening efforts on U.S. citizens by the NSA, and is Tucker Carlson one of them?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the NSA, as I think you’re well aware — I’m not sure everyone is aware — everyone on this plane is aware, I should say — is an entity that focuses on foreign threats and individuals who are trying — attempting to do us harm on foreign soil. So, that is the — their purview. But beyond that, I would point you to the intelligence community.

There do not appear to have been any follow-up questions from the assembled media.

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