Sunday Shows meet Glenn Greenwald!

The punditry experts of "This Week" and "Face the Nation" try to process the Guardian writer's spying revelations

Published June 9, 2013 6:30PM (EDT)

Welcome to your recap of this week's "Sunday shows," where the hot topic is how the government has access to everyone's phone and Facebook and video sex chats all the time, EVERYONE FREAK OUT, NOW. We'll be watching ABC's "This Week," NBC's "Meet the Press" and CBS' "Face the Nation," and yes, in that priority order.

"This Week" promises to be a grand old time, as some producer has let civil liberties reporter and commentator Glenn"zilla" Greenwald on national television again to scorch the earth. Greenwald, of course, has been the lead reporter behind a number of top-secret leak reports this week.

"You are really on a roll," George Stephanopoulos congratulates Greenwald, of "the Guardian newspaper." (Full disclosure: I am a contributor to the Guardian U.S.) What are the key findings of your stories this week? Greenwald, talking super-fast to get it all in, has two. From the transcript:

There are two key findings. One is that there are members of the Congress who have responsibility for oversight, for checking the people who run this vast secret apparatus of spying to make sure they are not abusing their power. These people in Congress have continuously asked for the NSA to provide basic information about how many Americans they are spying on, how many conversations and telephone and chats of Americans they are intercepting, and the NSA continuously tells them we don’t have the capability to tell you that, to even give you a rough estimate. So with these documents that we published show, that were marked top secret to prevent the American people from learning about them, was that the NSA keeps extremely precise statistics, all the data that the senators announced (ph) where the NSA has falsely claimed does not exist, and the other thing that it does, as you said, is it indicates just how vast and massive the NSA is in terms of sweeping up all forms of communication around the globe, including domestically.

But, Mr. Greenwald, Stephanopoulos asks, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says your reporting is filled with inaccuracies: what do you think about this, hmm? And there goes Glenn, off to the races: "Every single time any major media outlet reports on something that the government is hiding, that political officials don’t want people to know," he says, the "people in power" go after "the media as the messenger and they are trying to discredit the story." The people in power will deny any knowledge of these things -- "it has been going back decades, to the Pentagon papers … The only thing being damaged is the credibility" of public officials here. Meet Glenn Greenwald, America!

Stephanopoulos pushes Greenwald on whether the government has "direct access" to these tech companies' servers, as he and the Washington Post originally reported. Greenwald notes that the Guardian only reported the "conflict" between differing statements -- that these top secret documents say they do have direct access to the companies, and the companies told the Guardian that they don't.

Greenwald is asked whether he's been called by the FBI yet. (Ha ha, as if they'd ask.) Greenwald would be happy to talk to them any time, he says, but there is this "thing called the Constitution" that guarantees a free press and Greenwald is sick of these "intimidation" tactics we see following every government leak. These whistle-blowers deserve our "praise and gratitude," he says.

Greenwald ends by saying that he has more revelations afoot, oh ho ho.

Now it's time for Sen. Mark Udall, one of the senators who during debates over the Patriot Act renewal and other privacy issues over the past couple of years, alluded to the existence of other secret surveillance programs, but was bound by secrecy rules to keep it at that. Yeah, I was totally talking about PRISM and stuff like that, Udall concedes. On the other hand, though, the way this knowledge is seeing the light of day, through these huge leaks, does concern him.

Do you think the administration has been straight with the Congress with its testimony? "Generally" he thinks it has. But the administration's broad interpretations of surveillance law -- its collections of the large streams of "metadata" -- need to be Debated Nationally.

OK, enough of these "privacy" hippies, because now it's time for the boot to come down: Now we've got Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a terrifying senator on national security issues, and congressman Mike Rogers, who serves as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

"Here's the point," Dianne Feinstein says while approaching a point. Will it have to do with 9/11? "I flew over World Trade Center going to Senator Lautenberg's funeral ..." Oh God. Dianne Feinstein thought of bodies jumping out of the World Trade Center, "hitting the canopy," on the way to Frank Lautenberg's funeral, while also looking at the Statue of Liberty, and that's why she wants you to shut up about your precious liberties.

"Both of you know so much more" about this than anyone in the country, Stephanopoulos flatters them, after Rogers describes the legal process by which data is collected.

What about Clapper. Is he a dirty liar? "There is no more direct or honest person than Jim Clapper," Feinstein says, after this clip from March was aired:

SEN. RON WYDEN, D-OREGON: Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?


WYDEN: It does not?

CLAPPER: Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, collect, but not wittingly.

Rogers and Feinstein both agree that Greenwald's whistle-blower should be prosecuted. ("Absolutely," says Rogers.) And Rogers has a few dismissive words for Greenwald: "I know your reporter that you interviewed, Greenwald, says that he's got it all and now is an expert on the program. He doesn't have a clue how this thing works."

Now let's watch "Meet the Press" for a bit, because why not? Oops, it's not even on, because NBC has decided to go with the French Open final instead. Ha, David Gregory got preempted for a tennis match. Maybe there is some hope for this world.

Whatcha got for us, Bob Schieffer and "Face the Nation"? Later in the program, Schieffer will sit down with the now-longest-serving member of Congress in history, Rep. John Dingell, for a nice chat about the old days. Schieffer starts with a cut to a reporter in South Africa, where former President Nelson Mandela is hospitalized.

Schieffer is joined by Rep. Mike McCaul, head of the Homeland Security Committee, and Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. McCaul notes how (questionably) helpful these surveillance programs were in the Zazi case, but does have concerns with all of this metadata being collected now, and then says something about the AP scandal and concludes that the Obama administration is terrible and untrustworthy. Man, it is something else watching Republicans try to balance their obvious love of spying on everyone Muslim-sounding and their supposed hatred of the Obama administration. Cummings, who has voted against the Patriot Act, says we need to have this debate about whether surveillance has gone too far, and wonders if this is the new normal and so on.

Let's go back to "This Week" for a lil' roundtable action. Where is Peggy Noonan? We can't make up our minds about these surveillance scandals until we hear her thoughts on them, after all. Oh well.

Matthew Dowd, the former Bush campaign strategist, is rubbing it in about how Obama has broken so many civil liberties campaign promises and tells politicians to be more careful on the campaign trail. Thanks, Matt.

George Will is pretending to be terrified of the executive branch, now that President Obama is in charge of it, and, as usual, makes an unnecessary and not analogous historical reference. "This country was founded on a revolution" -- dear sweet Jesus -- "primarily against what was called executive prerogative of the executive at the time of George III."

Haven't we kinda-sorta known that this was going on all the time? Stephanopoulos asks, in one of those glib "how is this news?" moments following the breaking of major news. Rep. Keith Ellison says, uhh, he didn't know this was going on.

(Paul Krugman is on this panel and has said nothing.)

Now to Samantha Power, the nominee for U.N. ambassador. George Will believes that Samantha Power is a do-gooder. He is furious that she serves on something called the Atrocity Prevention Board. "What is this?" he huffs. (George Will supported the Iraq War.)

Let's give you something to talk about, Krugman: How about that jobs report? It's not good, he says. We just have such low standards that now 175,000 new jobs, after all this time, is considered "good." He says that we were ready for a takeoff, especially with the recovery in housing values, and then the sequester came and pulled the plug on it.

Greta van Susteren, the great anti-poverty crusader of our time, wants to know why no one cares about the poor in this country. Krugman mentions that Obamacare is a huge relief to the poor. Greta van Susteren doesn't care for this answer.

Now on to the CBS roundtable, where the topic is President Obama's summit with China. Joe Nye of Harvard considers it the most important meeting between leaders of the two countries in decades. David Sanger of the New York Times agrees, and finds it comforting that the two presidents were able to chit-chat for eight hours, and come out (allegedly) agreeing that the path forward is one of cooperation, not adversity. Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post agrees. Everyone loves this! We are on perfect footing with China now. Margaret Brennan of CBS News finally says, well, changes in the countries' attitudes won't happen instantly. Schieffer asks, since China has been and is constantly hacking everything, is there anything a single Chinese president can even do about this? Hmms around the table. We'll see!

Now what do these guys think about the "flood" of national security leaks coming out. Sanger says that what we've seen this week that's different is that Americans are now wondering where we draw the line on privacy versus national security -- the "balancing act" that President Obama talks about, as Sanger says, only after the government has already launched a very controversial program and kept it secret for years.

Bob Schieffer thanks his panel, and notes that he can't figure out whether all this spying is right or wrong because he "can't figure out what they did." All these fancy electricity devices, whizzing about, who even knows what this dadgum hoop-de-doo is! The end.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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