Friday, June 27, 2008

Olbermann, Obama and FISA

Keith Olbermann responded to Glenn Greenwald's post criticizing his flip on the FISA revision and telecom amnesty at DailyKos in Well, You Stumped Me 06/26/08. He did introduce an angle I hadn't heard before, which is that John Dean reads the language in the current bill under consideration as leaving open the possibility of criminal prosecution of the telecoms while ending civil lawsuits against them. But Olbermann's argument is unconvincing. And he doesn't deal with the probably much more serious aspect of the FISA bill, which would effectively allow arbitrary surveillance at the President's discretion.

Olbermann goes on to praise John Dean's brilliance - not something I would argue with but he puts an unusual emphasis on the credibility of his source on this and even works a baseball story into it - and declares, "I think John Dean is worth 25 Glenn Greenwalds (maybe 26 Keith Olbermanns)."

I'll have to go find something on Dean's position. He's one of my favorite authorities on things like this, as well. But Olbermann's position still strikes me as silly in light of his emphatic opposition to telecom amnesty back in January as being a "shameless, breathless, literally textbook example of Fascism - the merged efforts of government and corporations that answer to no government."

Even if Dean is right about criminal liability, stripping away civil liability is a very bad thing. A McCain Justice Department would be extremely unlikely to attempt such prosecutions, since McCain is wholly in favor of the FISA bill and the warrantless spying program, telecom amnesty and all. Obama would be under tremendous pressure not to do so. And the very fact the Dems caved on this bill weakens their hand in insisting on such prosecutions.


Then there's the problemita of Bush's pardon power. He can and almost certainly will issue blanket pardons to telecom execs for all criminal acts involved with the warrantless spying program. Since a major part of the illegal spying was conducted by private telecom companies, shutting down civil remedies will largely eliminate our chances to find out the extent of the program in any near term time frame, maybe ever. Congress could investigate it in detail. But if the Dems are afraid to filibuster an unpopular and blatantly bad bill like the FISA revision, it's unlikely they will do such an investigation absent revelations forced by civil lawsuits.

Olbermann's post doesn't even discuss the provisions in the FISA bill that could very well allow arbitrary surveillance of pretty much anyone in the US, citizen or not, without showing probable cause. There's a fig leaf of court review included. But it's a small and thin one.

This argument of Olbermann's is also less than impressive:

Thus, as I phrased it on the air tonight, obviously Obama kicked the left in the teeth by supporting the bill. But anybody who got as hot about this as I did would prefer to see a President Obama prosecuting the telecoms criminally, instead of seeing a Senator Obama engender more "soft on terror" crap by casting a token vote in favor of civil litigation that isn't going to pass since so many other Democrats caved anyway.

When Markos was on (Monday? Again, blurs) he made the simple but essential point that if this is Obama's rationale for this, maybe he should explain it. I think it can be argued that if he's caught the same hole in the bill that Dean has, his best course is actually to shut up and take the criticism and hope the Republicans don't see the loophole.
Assuming John Dean's reading of the bill's language is correct, why should Congressional Republicans worry about the loophole? The administration that orchestrated the criminal warrantless surveillance is almost certainly going to issue pardons so the perpetrators don't have to worry about it.

Coming from one of the few Big Pundits that attempts to be more-or-less consistently liberal, this was to me the most disturbing part of Olbermann's post: "I don't know much about Mr. Greenwald and I didn't read his full piece ..." (my emphasis). But that doesn't stop him from accusing Greenwald of being "simplistic and childish" in that same piece. He's responding to Greenwald's post criticizing him, and he didn't even bother to skim through the whole thing? We're not talking about a 50-page law journal article. Greenwald's post was kind of long for the average blog post - given the length of many of mine, that's certainly no criticism! - but it wasn't that long. Since I was basing my earlier post on Greenwald's piece, I at least felt obligated to read the whole thing to make sure I got the full context before posting on it.

And in any case, Olbermann's attitude as expressed here is the very outlook that has let Cheney, Bush and the lockstep Republican Party in Congress roll over the Democrats on major issues again and again. (Digby gives several examples from this sad record in Getting Things Done Hullabaloo blog 06/26/08.) Well, other Democrats are caving in, so what's the big deal if the leader of the Party does it? The difference, in this case, is between passing a bad bill and blocking it. And surely Olbermann can't imagine that the Republicans are going to refrain from calling Obama "soft on terror" and much worse because he surrendered to the Republican position on this bill, can he?

Olbermann also scolds those of us who were such rude hippie malcontents as to talk about the Great Journalist Tim Russert's manifest problems in his role as a Great Journalist while Olbermann and his fellow members of the journalistic clan were eulogizing him with virtually no critical comment whatsoever:

On a personal level, a thanks to all who expressed sympathies on our two great losses. I will confess, as suggested in another diary, to continuing surprise that there was even a little callousness expressed at Tim Russert's passing. I think the political hats were taken off briefly in respect of the loss of a good man, even on the Right (except for the disgusting New York Post). I was startled to see so many here [presumably he means Daily Kos] unable to hold their fire until at least after he was interred.
This is one of the most prominent of the rare liberal voices about the punditocracy. He's fine with Obama backing the complete cave-in on the FISA bill. He doesn't mind telling us that he didn't even read the full blog post he's brushing off with contempt, a disturbing indication that he shares some of the most dubious habits of his peers.

I am glad to see him note that Rupert Murdoch's New York Post can be "disgusting". I wish he had had that in mind when he did his 10-minute rant against Hillary Clinton over her comment about RFK, basing his report on the New York Post's reporting of it that was so bad even the Post itself later withdrew the language.

And he tut-tuts those who discussed the legacy of Tim Russert as a journalist. Most of us did not know Russert "on a personal level". We did know about his often-damaging legacy as one of the leading figures in the TV news business. And it's a perfectly valid criticism of the news judgment of Olbermann and others who praised Russert to the high heavens on air without providing more than the tiniest hint of the negative aspects of his effect on news. And consequently on the state of our politics and on our involvement in the completely unnecessary Iraq War. Instead, they turned their endless praise for Russert into a massive exercise in media self-congratulation.

Glenn Greenwald has posted his reponse to Olbermann's Kos post in Keith Olbermann's reply and Obama's Secret Plan to Protect the Rule of Law Salon 06/27/08. He also discusses John Dean's view of the FISA bill, which Greenwald says he shares.

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