Pointless Partisanship on Surveillance

Susan Page

USA Today’s Susan Page

“Democrats on one side, Republicans on the other” is the way conventional Beltway reporters seem to see the world–and it’s reflected in their reporting on political events.

On the front page of USA Today (6/7/13), Susan Page has a piece wondering if the unfolding scandals surrounding the White House and surveillance will threaten the president’s “agenda.” That’s a strange concern for the moment, but we’ll put that aside. The most unusual part of the piece is the very premise: That Obama’s actions have verified Republican criticisms of his presidency. As Page puts it, the current story

is especially problematic for Obama because it stokes controversies he already was struggling to contain and reinforces criticism that has dogged him from the start.

Republicans have long depicted Obama as an advocate of a big, dangerous and overreaching government, back to the federal bailout of the auto industry he undertook during the financial crisis that greeted his first inauguration. That has been their fundamental philosophical objection to his signature Affordable Care Act, now just months away from implementation of its major provisions.

So Obama is a “big government” something-or-other, which is what Republicans most certainly are not. Thus, big government spying shows that Obama is just as Republicans have “long depicted” him.

The Washington Post‘s Karen Tumulty recently made the same argument (FAIR Blog, 5/17/13)–Beltway scandals are scandals because they reinforce partisan criticism. It’s an illogical jump even when it comes to most Republican criticism of Obama, like the argument that the new healthcare law is a Big Government power grab.¬† Of course accusations that come from partisan critics reinforce¬† partisan criticism–how could they not?

But this line of argument makes even less sense in the case of surveillance, as Page acknowledges deep within the article: “To be sure, Obama didn’t launch the data-mining initiatives, which were started during the Bush administration.” So Republicans, if we’re to buy the premise here, are mad about Obama carrying out a policy begun under a Republican administration.

The real story, on a political level, is one of continuity: The elites in both parties basically agree on the policy in question, which is why there are not all that many politicians of either party speaking out forcefully right now in criticizing the administration’s policies. But that’s not the way most political journalists are trained to look at the world.


About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.