This is a paper I wrote on politics in the media. I decided to choose news coverage of the Stop Watching Us rally against mass surveillance, in Washington DC last month.
Freedom of speech and the right to privacy have always been a part of the ‘American Exceptionalism’ rhetoric in this country. They are part of the fundamental rights we have as Americans, and are often called upon when critiquing other governments, or invading other countries. Our own government does not actually uphold these constitutional rights, as was highlighted by thousands of Americans at the October 25 Rally against mass surveillance. The First Amendment was intended to allow each American to speak up about their religious or moral beliefs without any laws barring that freedom, stating that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Why, then, are so many detained and imprisoned for speaking out? American Democracy advertises the freedom and power individuals have to speak out—against policies, laws, and most importantly a tyrannical government, but at the same time prosecutes whistleblowers for doing so. Freedom of speech includes the right to assemble or protest in symbolic speech, and freedom of the press, media, and otherwise although those outlets are all heavily monitored by the NSA. Liberty is the foundation, the cornerstone, of the United States, mainly because the first colonists eventually fought against Britain for the ability to remain free from such an authoritarian government—many had fled from religious persecution. In a true democracy we should have the freedom and ability to govern ourselves, and that is only possible with the freedom of speech, and we should be protected from intrusive spying and collection of the data in which we exercise that free speech. The Fourth Amendment is another set of principals on which our country claims to be founded.
The Fourth was intended to protect individuals from unreasonable search and seizure without probable cause, providing “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Possibly the most important part is the emphasis on the need for a warrant, if personal effects are to be searched and seized. The Stop Watching Us Rally, backed by a hundred organizations, and attended by thousands, sent the message that the NSA is violating the First and Fourth Amendments with their massive spying programs. The rally took place on the 12th anniversary of the of the signing of the Patriot Act, the overarching piece of legislature that passed with bipartisan agreement in the wake of the September 11 attacks. The Act gave the government access to American’s private information in a way that was never allowed by law before without a warrant. The TV and mainstream media coverage of this event was scarce, while independent news media covered it at length. The Nation, Mother Jones, RT, Democracy Now, and The Guardian are among the news organizations that actually did cover it, providing a detailed history and articulate outline of the views and demands of the people.
John Nichols, cofounder of Free Press, wrote an article for The Nation outlining the idea behind the massive rally against spying on U.S. citizens that took place in Washington, D.C. The rally was backed by a “remarkable left-right coalition” of organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, Freedom Works, Demand progress, as well as the conservative Young Americans for Liberty. Even the Council on American-Islamis Relations had a presence. Free Press president Craig Aaron explained that it wasn’t “about right and left,” but about “right and wrong.” Republican Congressman Justin Amash was among the people gathered to voice their opinions against unconstitutional spying. Amash worked to defund the NSA’s collection of data, and believes that “the Fourth Amendment ought be respected.” Former Congressman Dennis Kucinich was also at the rally in opposition to the NSA’s far reaching spying power as he was opposed to the 2001 Patriot Act. The StopWatching.us coalition delivered petitions signed by 575,000 Americans to Congress opposing mass surveillance. StopWatching.us also collected several thousand more signatures in support of government transparency.
The coalition is “calling on Congress to take immediate action to halt this surveillance and provide a full public accounting of the NSA’s and FBI’s data collecting programs.” Some of the demands of the people are to enact reform to section 215 of the Patriot Act, which is the state secret privilege, as well as the FISA Amendments Act. Sweeping surveillance of the Internet and telecommunications of U.S. residents is “prohibited by law” and that is why our government must be held accountable. Nichols includes a statement from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, saying that “no telephone in America makes a call without passing through the NSA’s hands” and “no internet transaction enters or leaves America without passing through the NSA’s hands. Our representatives in Congress tell us this is not surveillance. They’re wrong. Now it’s time for the government to learn from us.” This is a powerful statement because Snowden, and millions of Americans, are no longer willing to trust the unscrupulous and corruptible NSA and endorsing governments. The topic is often in the news, however it is not being debated or changed by the administration. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has produced a video featuring Oliver Stone, whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, and several celebrities. The message is simple: A free society is not free when there are secret laws and massive spying by the government. The rally’s message was also clear: Stop watching us, and remind our elected officials, “they work for us, not the NSA”
Bart Jansen wrote a piece for USA Today about the “anti-NSA rally” which included the ACLU and the “Kock brothers’ FreedomWorks and Occupy Wall Street-NYC.” In light of the revelations by Edward Snowden, leaders of France and Italy have protested NSA surveillance of foreign countries. Even Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff cancelled a visit to the U.S. because of her opposition to the spying. Jesselyn Radack read Snowden’s statement about the NSA, then gestured to the Capitol building and said, “We are watching you.” The grass-roots group Demand Progress helped to organize the event and opposes the mass surveillance by the NSA. Members have been lobbying for legislation to “block bulk collection of data” after an unsuccessful attempt in the House. Sen. Pat Leahy and Rep. James Sensenbrenner are expected to propose new legislation in the following week as well. Dave Miller was among the people assembled, and wore a dark-blue windbreaker with yellow letters mimicking FBI jackets. The letters read “U.S. CITIZEN.” Grass-roots group Fight for the Future was present at the rally, and one of its founders Holmes Wilson wore tape across his mouth. Wilson’s banner read, “Spying is censorship” and he said in reference to the NSA, “They know who we associate with and where we are at any given time. It’s only getting worse.” Former senior executive at the NSA Thomas Drake, pushed for the repeal of the Patriot Act and said, “It’s time to roll back the surveillance state. It is time for the U.S. government to stop watching us.”
FOX news published a two-paragraph long piece about the rally against NSA spying. This article was the only coverage fox news did on the monumental rally, producing only one Associated Press photo with six people, sparsely placed, holding hand-written signs reading “No NSA spying.” The article doesn’t even have an author or contributor to be held accountable for this meager, ridiculous ‘coverage’ of the event. Even the title, Protestors Swarm D.C., implies unrest and possibly violence. The most erroneous part of this fake news network’s coverage is that it claims hundreds, or “nearly a thousand” protestors marched on the Capitol. Former NSA whistleblower was “prosecuted by the Department of Justice under the Espionage Act for leaking unclassified information to a Baltimore Sun reporter” and told the crowd “We’re against mass surveillance.” FOX news is clearly not willing to look at the real issue of unconstitutional spying done by our government.
The way the press media bolster the fact that so many different partisan organizations were present is evidence of further atomization of our society. As Congressman Amash stated at the rally, “this isn’t a partisan issue. This is for Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, conservatives and liberals, everyone in between.” One doesn’t need to be affiliated with a political party; one only needs to read The Constitution to understand that free speech and protection against unreasonable search and seizure by law enforcement are indispensable rights. The way FOX news willingly omitted crucial information about the rally shows exactly how pro-government mainstream news can be. Their misguided information about the number of people gathered is an attempt to make this movement appear small. This is a people’s movement with several thousand peaceful protestors and activists, many from reputable organizations, and many current and former government. Further, FOX’s portrayal of Thomas Drake, NSA whistleblower and recipient of the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling, is totally flawed because he was not prosecuted by the DOJ. Drake was accused of espionage yet all charges were dropped. He eventually pled to one misdemeanor, which was exceeding the authorized use of a government computer. This is not even close to being prosecuted under the Espionage Act, and if he had been, he probably wouldn’t be a free man today. One might never be able to point out or change all the fallacies that FOX news supplies their subscribers. The real motivation behind the Stop Watching Us movement is simply freedom of speech and the right to privacy provided in the U.S. Constitution, and the organizations that supported the Stop Watching Us movement are not stopping until legislation is passed, and the NSA is held accountable.
Sidlow, E., Henschen, B. (2012) Govt (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cenage Learning.
Nichols, John. (2013 October 25) A Mass Rally Against Mass Surveillance. The Nation. Retrieved from www.thenation.com/blog/176833/mass- rally-against-mass-surveillance on November 5.
Jansen, Bart. (2013 October 26) Anti-NSA rally attracts thousands to march in Washington. USA TODAY. Retrieved from www.usatoday.com/story/ news/nation/2013/10/26/nsa-dc-rally/3241417 on November 5.
Daily Caller. (2013 October 25) Protestors Swarm D.C. To Rally Against NSA Spying. FOX News. Retrieved from www.nation.foxnews.com/2013/10/27/ protestors-swarm-dc-rally-against-nsa-spying on November 6.