This weekend CBS Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer (6/30/13) did a segment on the latest revelations about NSA surveillance. And who better to interview than… well, the former head of the NSA and CIA, Michael Hayden.
Now, in an oppositional media culture, this could make some sense. Hayden oversaw domestic surveillance during some of the Bush years, which of course included the remarkably controversial warrantless wiretapping program. So a serious TV journalist might want to grill him on that history.
But he was on Face the Nation, and Schieffer wasn't conducting that kind of interview. At one point, in fact, Schieffer revealed just what he hoped to gain out of this:
We appreciate you coming to talk to us this morning, because it's not easy to get people from the government that are in the government. Now, do you think the government ought to be doing more to help the American people understand what's happening here?
The assumption here, of course, is that the government's role in all of this is to "help the American people understand" their secret surveillance program. That is most certainly not what the government wants to be doing; but to Schieffer, who complains about having trouble getting enough White House officials on his show, some interview subjects are not there to be questioned critically.
This is especially ironic in the case of Hayden. At one point he told Schieffer, in defending the NSA surveillance, that "our Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans' privacy, is not an international treaty."
Why is this odd? Because back in 2006, after his stint at the NSA, Hayden revealed that he didn't know what the Fourth Amendment actually said.
As FAIR (Media Advisory, 1/27/06) reported, this happened in the aftermath of another NSA wiretapping scandal, which critics saw as an end-run around the Fourth Amendment:
In a question-and-answer session at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on January 23–before an audience consisting largely of journalists–Hayden repeatedly demonstrated that he does not know the basic language of this key part of the Bill of Rights.
The subject came up when reporter Jonathan Landay of Knight Ridder attempted to preface a question by stating that "the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution specifies that you must have probable cause to be able to do a search that does not violate an American's right against unlawful searches and seizures." Hayden interjected: "Actually, the Fourth Amendment actually protects all of us against unreasonable search and seizure. That's what it says."
Landay politely corrected him, saying, "But the measure is 'probable cause,' I believe." But Hayden insisted: "The amendment says 'unreasonable search and seizure.'" When Landay continued, "But does it not say probable–" he was interrupted by Hayden, who said, "No…. The amendment says 'unreasonable search and seizure.'"
In case you were wondering, Hayden was incorrect about what the amendment says:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
And at the press club event, Hayden elaborated:
Just to be very clear, okay–and, believe me, if there's any amendment to the Constitution that employees at the National Security Agency is familiar with, it's the Fourth, all right? And it is a reasonableness standard in the Fourth Amendment. So, what you've raised to me–and I'm not a lawyer, and don't want to become one–but what you've raised to me is, in terms of quoting the Fourth Amendment, is an issue of the Constitution. The constitutional standard is "reasonable." And we believe–I am convinced that we're lawful because what it is we're doing is reasonable.
As FAIR pointed out, Hayden was sent out to defend Bush's warrantless wiretapping–and yet somehow his ignorance of the Constitution was hardly mentioned in media coverage:
By showing that he was unaware of the "probable cause" language in the Fourth Amendment, Hayden revealed that his insistence that it was legal for the NSA to conduct warrantless surveillance was not based on even a nodding familiarity with the constitutional issues involved. Given that Hayden's talk was part of a coordinated Bush administration publicity campaign to stress the legality of such surveillance, his demonstration of ignorance should have been a central point in the subsequent coverage. Instead, most news outlets that covered his speech chose to ignore his exchange with Landay and the knowledge gap it revealed.
And now, once again, Hayden is making the rounds defending the NSA. Lucky for him he's speaking to journalists who won't ask him tough questions. Indeed, Bob Schieffer sounds like he's more interested in finding someone in the government to comfort him.