No, not really. But is it too much to ask that when the mainstream media reports on court decisions that they properly identify the law that is struck down and the Administration that is rebuked? Apparently it is, at least if the Thursday morning papers are any guide.
As I noted in my post below, a recent decision of the Southern District of New York struck down part of a 1986 law known as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. How does the press report the decision? No mention of the 1986 law, of course. Instead, the press is reporting that the court struck down a major part of the Patriot Act, in a blow to the Bush Administration’s overzealous response to terrorism. As I trace the history of the statute, this is quite inaccurate: the basic law was implemented in 1986, almost 20 years ago. To be fair, the Patriot Act did amend some language in this section; just not in a relevant way. As best I can tell, the court’s decision does not rely on or even address anything in the Patriot Act. (See page 14-22 of the Court’s opinion for the details of the statute’s history.)
But of course you don’t get that from the mainstream press, which likes to report everything related to terorrism as if it were the Patriot Act. Here is the New York Times:
Judge Strikes Down Section of Patriot Act Allowing Secret Subpoenas of Internet Data
By JULIA PRESTON
A federal judge struck down an important surveillance provision of the antiterrorism legislation known as the USA Patriot Act yesterday, ruling that it broadly violated the Constitution by giving the federal authorities unchecked powers to obtain private information.
The ruling, by Judge Victor Marrero of Federal District Court in Manhattan, was the first to uphold a challenge to the surveillance sections of the act, which was adopted in October 2001 to expand the powers of the federal government in national security investigations.
The ruling invalidated one piece of the law, finding that it violated both free speech guarantees and protection against unreasonable searches. It is thought likely to provide fuel for other court challenges.
The Washington Post goes out of its way to construe the decision as a rebuke to the Bush Administration:
Key Part of Patriot Act Ruled Unconstitutional
By Dan Eggen
A federal judge in New York ruled yesterday that a key component of the USA Patriot Act is unconstitutional because it allows the FBI to demand information from Internet service providers without judicial oversight or public review.
The ruling is one of several judicial blows to the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism policies in recent months.
. . .
Marrero’s ruling is the latest setback in the courts for the Bush administration’s terrorism policies, which civil libertarians and some lawmakers consider overly broad. The Supreme Court ruled in June that detainees held as “enemy combatants” may challenge their confinement through the U.S. courts. Two rulings by federal courts in California have also struck down portions of statutes making it a crime to provide “material support” to terrorists.
. . .
But the ACLU argues that Marrero’s ruling is a warning to the government about some of its tactics in the war on terrorism.
“This is a wholesale refutation of the administration’s use of excessive secrecy and unbridled power under the Patriot Act,” said Ann Beeson, an ACLU lawyer. . . .
Not to be outdone, the Associated Press offers a similar story (could it be that they are all reading from the same script?):
Judge blocks part of Patriot Act
NEW YORK (AP) — Declaring that personal security is as important as national security, a judge Wednesday blocked the government from conducting secret, unchallengeable searches of Internet and telephone records as part of its fight against terrorism.
The American Civil Liberties Union called the ruling a “landmark victory” against the Justice Department’s post-September 11 law enforcement powers.
Of course, many readers may consider the identity of the law at issue as a minor point; after all, the important thing is that the law was struck down, not whether it was a 1986 law or a 2001 law that was at issue. But I think the label matters, actually, and that it matters a lot: the mainstream media has created a monster called the Patriot Act that has millions of Americans terribly worried about the government in general and the Bush Administration in particular. The early reports are trying to view this ruling as a rebuke to antiterrorism strategies of the Bush Administration, but that’s just not accurate: if anything, it is a rebuke to the antiterrorism strategies of the Reagan Administration.
Finally, if I’m missing something, please let me know; there’s always a risk when I blog this late at night that it’s me missing the obvious, not the Washington Post, New York Times, and Associated Press.