A truly extraordinary example of journalistic malfeasance is playing out right now. Attorney General Michael Mukasey told a San Francisco audience last week that the Bush administration was aware in the days before the 9/11 attacks that an Al Qaeda official was making calls from a “safe house in Afghanistan” to U.S. but that our government failed to act on that.
Mukasey said the U.S. lacked the legal authority, a flat falsehood as legal commentators have pointed out. But why aren’t journalists pursing what Salon’s Glenn Greenwald explains is a huge question:
Mukasey’s story is either true or false — and, more importantly, nothing like it happened. He can’t claim that he just misspoke or was confused because not only was there no such call from Afghanistan (at least according to everything that is known, including by the 9/11 Commission’s version), but FISA could never possibly have prevented interception of any calls remotely like the one Mukasey described.
He just made this up out of whole cloth in order to mislead Americans into supporting the administration’s efforts to eliminate spying safeguards and basic constitutional liberties and to stifle the pending surveillance lawsuits against telecoms. That isn’t hard for anyone — even including those who play the role of journalists on TV — to understand and convey.
The San Francisco Chronicle’s article about the speech at least raised the issue:
Mukasey did not specify the call to which he referred. He also did not explain why the government, if it knew of telephone calls from suspected foreign terrorists, hadn’t sought a wiretapping warrant from a court established by Congress to authorize terrorist surveillance, or hadn’t monitored all such calls without a warrant for 72 hours as allowed by law. The Justice Department did not respond to a request for more information.
As far as I can tell, however, the paper hasn’t pursued it further. That’s bad journalism if so.
It’s vastly vastly worse journalism that virtually the entire media establishment has failed to pick up on a story of real significance. Why are journalists not hounding the Justice Department, White House and Congress for answers? (The failure of Congress to ask obvious questions is nothing new for that weak-kneed crowd, sadly. And it’s scary that the presidential candidates don’t care, either.)
Who’s asking, besides MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann? Bloggers, for the most part. Oh, right, blogging is just a trivial activity, unworthy of journalistic recognition.
This kind of thing is why traditional journalism is forfeiting its soul.