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Scoop? We Didn't Have Any Scoop!

By James Taranto 
May 12, 2006

The New York Times editorial page is in its usual hysterical form today:

Ever since its secret domestic [sic] wiretapping program was exposed, the Bush administration has depicted it as a narrow examination of calls made by and to terrorism suspects. But its refusal to provide any details about the extent of the spying has raised doubts. Now there is more reason than ever to be worried--and angry--about how wide the government's web has been reaching.

According to an article in USA Today, the National Security Agency has been secretly collecting telephone records on tens of millions of Americans with the cooperation of the three largest telecommunications companies in the nation. The scope of the domestic spying described in the article is breathtaking. The government is reported to be working with AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth to collect data on phone calls made by untold millions of customers.

President Bush has insisted in the past that the government is monitoring only calls that begin or end overseas. But according to USA Today, it has actually been collecting information on purely domestic calls.

The Times' conflation of "monitoring" and "collecting information on" calls is quite dishonest. What the government is doing here is essentially maintaining a database of people's phone bills--information the phone companies store and use for their own marketing and billing purposes. In Smith v. Maryland (1979), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that law-enforcement agencies do not need a warrant to collect such information.

That's not even the most astonishing thing about the Times piece. The USA Today report that leaves the editorialists so breathless turns out to be largely a rehash of a story that appeared way back on Christmas Eve--in the New York Times!

The Times, of course, helped land one of its own reporters in jail by pushing for an investigation of who "leaked" accurate information to journalists in the Valerie Plame kerfuffle. Now the paper is so eager to hyperventilate about President Bush that it is willing to give another paper credit for a scoop it reported itself months ago. This is demented.

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