June 11, 2013

Edward Snowden (Glenn Greenwald/Laura Poitras/The Guardian Newspaper)

Fox News host Bill O’Reilly seems okay with the program under which the National Security Agency (NSA) grabs phone-records’ “metadata” relating to the communications activities of millions of Americans. Just as long as the feds aren’t actually listening to the calls: “Sane people know that storing phone call data is questionable, but I think it’s permissible under the Constitution if things aren’t tapped,” said O’Reilly in last night’s show, sort of ignoring warnings about the vast sea of information retrievable from metadata.

Outrage, suggested O’Reilly, is more appropriately targeted at the NSA’s so-called PRISM program, under which the agency can access Internet data, including e-mails and videos, through some murky setup with U.S. tech firms. “E-mails are a far different story. There you have actual words on paper that people have said in private, and if that stuff is being stored in Utah, that’s flat out unconstitutional. Simply can’t have American authority spying on the folks, storing their e-mails,” he said, though the program is targeted at foreigners. “It can’t happen. This PRISM program should be shut down immediately. If it’s not, a class action suit should be filed and the Supreme Court should hear it as quickly as it can.”

One person who apparently won’t be signing on to any such civil action is Fox News analyst Juan Williams, who preached the importance of trust in the government: “I don’t want to get blown up. I’m amazed that’s the conservatives aren’t on the side of the Obama administration here.”

As O’Reilly pointed out, the NSA stories have created something of an ideological muddle, with liberals and conservatives scattered on the issue. “Here are some people who oppose: Glenn Beck, Michael Moore, Rush Limbaugh, Arianna Huffington, Al Gore and Van Jones. The headline: Van Jones and Glenn Beck agree on something. Are you kidding me?” said O’Reilly.

It’s also something of a logical muddle as well, as O’Reilly demonstrated in his remarks. His charge that PRISM is unconstitutional and worthy of immediate Supreme Court attention, after all, suggests that he believes the leak to be worthy. Yet he also said that leaker Edward Snowden should meet the full force of the law: “Snowden will be arrested if he doesn’t get asylum in a country that does not have an extradition treaty with the USA. And he should be arrested even though what he did may, ultimately, be a good thing. We simply can’t have Americans leaking national security information. That would be anarchy. If Snowden thinks his case is noble, then he should put it in front of a jury,” said O’Reilly.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.