The level of deception in the reporting on Edward Snowden’s stolen National Security Agency documents has reached an all time high. Or shall we say “low?” The latest item, an article by James Risen and Laura Poitras, is so obvious in its prevarication that it was shocking to see it on the front page of The New York Times.
The article, titled “Spying by N.S.A. Ally Entangled U.S. Law Firm,” is transparently intended to mislead people into thinking the NSA lawlessly spied on a American lawyers. In fact, when I first read the lede I thought that was exactly what Risen and Poitras were alleging. The lede:
The list of those caught up in the global surveillance net cast by the National Security Agency and its overseas partners, from social media users to foreign heads of state, now includes another entry: American lawyers.
The lede — the very first sentence in the article — explicitly says that that “American lawyers” have been caught up in the “surveillance net” cast by overseas spy agencies and NSA. The operative word being “and.” NSA and its “overseas partners” are spying on a U.S. law firm. If it’s not deliberately intend to mislead, then it’s very poorly written.
The reporters cleverly didn’t mention which agency is specifically doing the spying until the middle of the third paragraph where we discover that it’s not NSA who’s spying on the law firm at all, it’s the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), and the law firm, possibly Mayer Brown, represented the government of Indonesia in trade talks with the U.S.
Since the ASD was the agency doing all the spying in this instance, you’d think we’d see the ASD mentioned throughout the article (the Times would’ve used the “A.S.D.” with periods between each letter). Instead, it appears just once in the roughly 2,000 word piece. How many times did Risen and Poitras mention NSA? 32 times. To repeat, the spy agency in question was mentioned by name only once, while the NSA was mentioned 32 times.
Why is this significant? As we noted last month, Farhad Manjoo wrote a fascinating and troubling post for Slate last year that showed how online readers hardly ever read through an entire article. Most readers, in fact, only read half, while many readers don’t even bother to scroll (on my computer, I had to scroll down to see the only mention of the ASD). Anyone skimming the article would naturally see “NSA” all over the place. It appears three times before the ASD or Australia is ever mentioned… [CONTINUE READING HERE]