Yesterday the Associated Press produced one of the worst pieces of "reporting" we've seen in months. It was reprinted unquestioningly in at least a couple dozen newspapers (or at least their websites), including the supposedly enlightened Guardian and Washington Post. The facts in it are so wrong, one cannot help but wonder how the story was gathered. There is not even a byline.
Read for yourself:
Let's start with the headline (I've double-checked -- this is the original that went over the wire)...
Librarians Protected in Patriot Act Case
Protected? The ruling was that, for now, the plaintiffs (a single library employee and the library for which he works, as far as we in the media know) cannot reveal their identities as the subjects of a secret government warrant demanding information about patron's records. The warrant, known as a "national security letter," was issued without any judicial oversight (the FBI just writes and authorizes them itself), and carries a gag order saying the librarian cannot tell anyone about it. The librarian wants to be protected from the government, according to his suit.
A federal appeals court has ruled that the names of Connecticut librarians who had been asked to help in an FBI terrorism investigation under the Patriot Act will remain secret pending arguments from prosecutors.
Actually, the appeals court simply stayed a previous decision permitting the librarian to reveal himself and speak about the national security letter (NSL) issue to Congress.
And the librarian was not "asked to help" -- he was ordered to comply. He is resisting, and he risked serious legal trouble by revealing himself to ACLU attorneys just to fight the order.
The American Civil Liberties Union is seeking the identity of the librarians who received an FBI demand for records about library patrons.
No, it is not. The ACLU is representing the plaintiff, who is not suing to reveal anyone's identity except his own. This is just bizarre "journalism," since it almost implies that librarians -- who are overwhelmingly against the Patriot Act clause giving rise to the use of NSLs against libraries -- are somehow terrified of being exposed for willingly aiding the government. In reality, the whole case is about them asking to be allowed to expose themselves.
Here's an image of the actual request from the court filing (PDF) by the plaintiffs' attorneys:
That's it. The whole thing. Do you see anything about the ACLU demanding a list of librarians' names and employers?
Prosecutors said the gag order prevented only the release of the client's identity, not the client's ability to speak about the Patriot Act.
But the plaintiff's argument is that he cannot effectively testify before Congress unless he can reveal that he was subjected to an NSL order.
Prosecutors also argued that revealing the identity of the librarians would be "an alarm bell" that could tip off suspects and jeopardize a federal investigation into terrorism.
Again, who are "the librarians"? Where did this unnamed reporter get the idea that the ACLU is trying to expose all these librarians? And why doesn't this article note that the Bush administration has testified that no librarians have been issued NSLs under the Patriot Act provision!?
The alarm bell that is most likely to go off is among the thousands of library patrons who have nothing to do with terrorism -- which may, according to the Patriot Act, include the individual(s) whose records are requested by the NSL.
Now check out the story on this topic Brendan Coyne put together for TNS last night. Just imagine what we could do if we had .01% of the budget the AP wastes.