FOR THE WEEK OF MAY 15, 2006
Newspaper editorials slam the government's phone snooping
Newspaper editorials and public opinion seem badly out of sync on this issue. The function of an editorial is to sway public opinion and to call attention to a problem or issue. Have students read your newspaper's editorials and determine what issues they deem important. Do they disagree with the opinions put forth by the newspaper? Have them write a rebuttal.
The National Security Agency is the largest government spy outfit in the world. What does it actually do? Who's in charge of it? Who oversees its actions? Have students read the accounts in the newspapers, research the agency on the Internet and answer these questions the way a reporter would.
Have students track developments of this story as a timeline, starting with last week's revelations and the reactions to the revelations from the press and the government. How does public reaction to the issue change over time? Does the students' reaction change over time as they learn more about the issue?
The uproar over revelations that the National Security Agency has collected the telephone records of tens of millions of Americans spilled onto the nation's editorial pages last week. Editor & Publisher reported that the nation's leading newspapers condemned the program and said what the goverment was doing "undermines US freedoms and threatens us all."
But a poll conducted late last week shows that a majority of Americans supports the NSA program, perhaps believing that the dangers of terrorism matter more than personal privacy.
What's the beef: Washington Post described the spying program this way : "The Bush administration has secretly been collecting the domestic telephone records of millions of American households and businesses, assembling gargantuan databases and attempting to sift them for clues about terrorist threats." USA Today said the issue defines "a debate that dates to the nation's founding, and before, over balancing the interests of the government with the rights of individuals.
What the government says: Defenders say the interception of communications with al-Qaida or affiliated terrorists is of vital national interest. "We are in a war, and we’ve got to collect intelligence on the enemy, and you can’t tell the enemy in advance how you are going to do it," said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. Gen. Michael Hayden, President Bush's nominee to head the CIA, said "The only purpose of the agency’s activities is to preserve the security and the liberty of the American people."
What the critics say: The Chicago Tribune editorial page on Friday said: "This sounds like a vast and unchecked intrusion on privacy. President Bush's assurance Thursday that the privacy of Americans was being 'fiercely protected' was not at all convincing."
What the public thinks: Last week's Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 63 percent of Americans said they found the NSA program to be an acceptable way to investigate terrorism. And 66 percent said they would not be bothered if NSA collected records of personal calls they had made.
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