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Category: Politics

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On the NSA and Media Bias: An Extended Analysis

By Albert Wong and Valerie Belair-Gagnon, Information Society Project at Yale Law School

In a recent article in the Columbia Journalism Review, we reported that major US newspapers exhibited a net pro-surveillance bias in their “post-Edward Snowden” coverage of the NSA. Our results ran counter to the general perception that major media outlets lean “traditionally liberal” on social issues. Given our findings, we decided to extend our analysis to see if the same bias was present in “traditionally conservative” and international newspapers.

Using the same methods described in our previous study, we examined total press coverage in the Washington Times, one of the top “traditionally conservative” newspapers in the US. We found that the Washington Times used pro-surveillance terms such as security or counterterrorism 45.5% more frequently than anti-surveillance terms like liberty or rights. This is comparable to USA Today‘s 36% bias and quantitatively greater than The New York Times‘ 14.1% or the Washington Post‘s 11.1%. The Washington Times, a “traditionally conservative” newspaper, had the same, if not stronger, pro-surveillance bias in its coverage as neutral/”traditionally liberal”-leaning newspapers.

In contrast, The Guardian, the major UK newspaper where Glenn Greenwald has reported most of Snowden’s disclosures, did not exhibit such a bias. Unlike any of the US newspapers we examined, The Guardian actually used anti-surveillance terms slightly (3.2%) more frequently than pro-surveillance terms. Despite the UK government’s pro-surveillance position (similar to and perhaps even more uncompromising than that of the US government), the Guardian‘s coverage has remained neutral overall. (Neutral as far as keyword frequency analysis goes, anyway; the use of other methods, such as qualitative analysis of article tone, may also be helpful in building a comprehensive picture.)

Our extended results provide additional context for our earlier report and demonstrate that our analysis is “capturing a meaningful divide.”

On a further note, as several commenters suggested in response to our original report, the US media’s pro-surveillance bias may be a manifestation of a broader “pro-state” bias. This theory may be correct, but it would be difficult to confirm conclusively. On many, even most, issues, the US government does not speak with one voice. Whose position should be taken as the “state” position? The opinion of the President? The Speaker of the House? The Chief Justice? Administration allies in Congress? In the context of the Affordable Care Act, is there no “pro-state” position at all, since the President, the Speaker, and the Chief Justice each have different, largely irreconcilable views?

Schmayek’s Shutdown

MirowskiCoverIf you asked Ted Cruz or Jim DeMint who was the guiding spirit of their government shutdown, they’d probably mention Friedrich von Hayek. The Nobel Prize winning economist warned the world that “socialism” would put citizens on a “road to serfdom.” For the Tea Party, PPACA is a horror, perhaps even a new form of slavery, a threat to liberty even darker than the feudal past Hayek evoked.

But there is another figure just as important to current neoliberal thought as Hayek. Carl Schmitt provided jurisprudential theories of “the emergency” and “the exception” that highlighted the best opportunities for rapid redistribution of wealth upwards. In Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, Philip Mirowski explains how neoliberal thought, far from advocating a shrinking of the state, in fact sparks a redirection and intensification of its energies. As he puts it, “A primary function of the neoliberal project is to redefine the shape and the function of the state, not to destroy it” (56). Moreover, the “strong state was necessary to neutralize what [Hayek] considered to be the pathologies of democracy” (84). Even a temporary dictatorship can work in a pinch.

The shutdown is a brilliant strategy to meld Hayekian substance and Schmittian procedure. As Aaron Bady has observed,

A shutdown is a state of exception when the government gets to do things it normally can’t do, like close the Environmental Protection Agency, de-fund WIC, close the national parks, send a lot of government employees home [in what is in many ways a lock-out], and all sorts of other stuff. A shutdown is a moment in which a choice gets made about which laws to obey and which laws to ignore, when the government gets to decide that some people are essential and some people aren’t.

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UCLA Law Review Vol. 61, Discourse

Volume 61, Discourse Discourse

Fighting Unfair Credit Reports: A Proposal to Give Consumers More Power to Enforce the Fair Credit Reporting Act Jeffrey Bils 226
A Legal “Red Line”? Syria and the Use of Chemical Weapons in Civil Conflict Jillian Blake & Aqsa Mahmud 244
Alleyne v. United States, Age as an Element, and the Retroactivity of Miller v. Alabama Beth Colgan TBD
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Peter Thiel’s Government Shutdown and McCutcheon v. FEC

“I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” – Peter Thiel

Dear concurrers: I’m excited to be guest blogging this month. Look forward to comments and discussion–there’s a lot going on (a shut down, a major Supreme Court decision), and I’ll just be posting thoughts, reactions, ideas, related to politics, power, and the Supreme Court. I will likely be focusing on McCutcheon v. FEC (nice summary by Rick Hasen here). Today, I have just a few thoughts about the government shutdown: namely, I want to connect it to the last big Supreme Court case, Citizens United. Unlike Peter Thiel, I think freedom and democracy are compatible, so long as there are good structural rules in place enabling their co-habitation. One set of those structural rules are those that create barriers to unlimited political giving and spending.

Remember this ad?

Hillary: The Movie

It should be on your mind for two reasons.

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What’s in a Name?

Friday’s New Jersey Superior Court decision in Garden State Equality v. Dow holding that equal protection requires the extension of marriage to same-sex couples was an important victory for marriage equality overall and for recognition of the importance of naming. The decision arises at a time when debate continues over whether the New Jersey legislature will override the gubernatorial veto of the last year’s Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act, which would have extended the title of marriage to same-sex couples in New Jersey.

 

Seven years ago, the New Jersey Supreme Court concluded in Lewis v. Harris that the equal protection challenge to the state’s refusal to marry same-sex couples could be separated into two distinct issues – (1) whether same-sex couples had an equal right to the rights of marriage; and (2) whether they had a right to the title “marriage.”  As to the first question, the court easily concluded that same-sex couples were entitled under equal protection principles to the benefits and privileges of marriage.  But as to the second question, the court was careful to maintain a distinction between substantive rights and naming.  In deferring to the legislature, the majority chose not to “presume that a difference in name alone is of constitutional magnitude.”

 

The question of access to the title of “marriage” has often focused on the social costs associated with being labeled something other than married.  In her stirring dissent from the court’s deferral of the naming question in Lewis v. Harris, then-Chief Justice Poritz identified the stigma and devaluation flowing from giving same-sex couples a title other than marriage.  I have written more extensively about this issue elsewhere.

 

The decision in Garden State Equality v. Dow highlights the substantive costs (apart from the social ones) of failing to use the term “marriage.”  With DOMA’s Section 3 in place prior to Windsor, committed couples in New Jersey—in marriages or civil unions—were similarly, if not equally, situated regarding substantive rights and privileges.  But with Section 3 invalidated and many federal agencies conferring federal benefits only to married same-sex couples, not couples in civil unions, New Jersey’s committed same-sex couples do not receive equal protection as promised by Lewis.  The decision underscores just how much there is in a name.

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Considering Criminality in the Sale and Purchase of Sex

The New York state court system this week unveiled its Human Trafficking Intervention Initiative to expand a network of pilot courts specially aimed at linking prostitution defendants with a range of social services, and offering the potential for non-criminal dispositions or reduced charges for these defendants.  The program represents an important step toward addressing the exploitation of women, men, and children through sex trafficking.  The recognition of coercion in the sex trade and of the coexistence of prostitution with needs for housing, healthcare, immigration assistance, job training, and drug treatment echo reforms in the domestic violence context to create more integrated judicial approaches to addressing the needs of victims.

 

These reform efforts raise the question of how much attention should be paid to the market supporters of the sex trade.  Law enforcement has tended to focus on sellers of sex, rather than its purchasers, although every state in the U.S. but Nevada criminalizes both the sale and the purchase of sex.  Our American approach, however, is not self-evident.  Sweden criminalizes patronage but not prostitution, akin to many European countries.  The NY reforms suggest further thinking about allocation of criminal responsibility.

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The Presidential Nominating Calendar

Sorry to interrupt the Symposium.  I always wonder if I should post during a Symposium, but anyway . . .

One theme of federalism scholarship is that we sometimes need central authority to prevent “a race to the bottom.”  In other words, with respect to certain regulatory topics, a state would be discouraged from acting on its own because business and people would flee to other states.  Of course, some people think that this constraint keeps states from enacting foolish policies, but on some subjects the constraint keeps them from adopting beneficial ones.  Only a national law can accomplish the goal, because moving to another country is harder.

The presidential nomination calendar provides an interesting perspective on this sort of state competition.  There is significant value in being early in the presidential primary season.  Candidates drop lots of money on TV ads and rallies in your state.  Your state’s issues get a lot of attention.  And you have influence over who gets nominated.  Why, then, doesn’t every state try to be Iowa and New Hampshire?  One answer is that Iowa and New Hampshire say that they will always change their election dates to be first, but that would lead to a clear “race to the bottom” without end.  Tradition supplies another reason, but the “tradition” of the Iowa caucuses only goes back to 1976.  No central authority is responsible.  The parties can try to influence the primary calendar, but they cannot compel a state to pick one date over another.  What accounts for the relative stability of the system in the last thirty years?  Perhaps there isn’t as much to the “race to the bottom” theory as one might think.  Or is there a kind of game theory equilibrium at work?

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Putin Gays on the Agenda

When I hear about American supporters the new Russian homophobic legislation (or, for that matter, about President Putin and his aides who initiated such crazy legislation, which prohibits, among other things, even expressing tolerance towards LGBTs), I can’t help but recall a New York Time article from last year titled Homophobic? Maybe You’re Gay, which claimed that there is “empirical evidence of a connection between homophobia and suppressed same-sex desire.”

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Discharge Petitions in the House

I was doing some research the other day and came across some interesting information about the use of discharge petitions in the House of Representatives.  When this rule was created in 1910 (after a revolt of back-benchers against Speaker Joseph Cannon), only 135 members were needed to obtain a petition and move a bill to the floor.  This was far less than half of the total membership, which meant that the minority party could almost always force a vote on legislation.  In the 1930s, the rule was amended to create the present standard that you need a majority of the House to discharge a bill from committee.

Moreover, until the 1990s signatures on a discharge petition were secret until and unless the majority threshold was reached.  That meant that it was easier to buck the party leadership, because the dissenters would be revealed only if they succeeded and only together.  Punishing twenty people is risky for the Speaker.  Punishing a few individuals is not.  In 1993, though, the House changed the rule and required that all discharge petition signatures be public.

In both respects (the number required and transparency), changes to the discharge petition have strengthened the leadership of the majority party.  It is hard to see how this has helped the country.

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Diversity on the Supreme Court

While in recent decades the Court has become more diverse in some areas, such as gender and race, presidents have also appointed Justices with increasingly uniform educational and professional backgrounds. This lack of professional and educational diversity may be sub-optimal. Adrian Vermeule, for example, offers a carefully-reasoned argument for having at least one Justice with training in another discipline (he suggests appointing a Justice with a PhD in economics). At its most extreme, Vermeule’s argument insists that the professionally-diverse Justice have no training in law, to correct for correlated biases held by lawyer Justices.

My research suggests, however, that the extreme step of eliminating formal legal training will introduce a particular bias which some will find objectionable. In the past, Justices who did not attend law school were significantly more politically predictable than Justices who shared the benefit of formal legal education. Today, of course, a president choosing a Justice who did not attend law school would likely select a person who also has expertise in another field. But it is not clear a Justice with an advanced degree in economics or another discipline would exhibit the same political restraint as a Justice who went to law school. It seems more likely that Justices who attend law school will be either better-equipped or more inclined than others to vote independently of their personal political views. This may be reflected in greater levels of judicial restraint, incremental decision-making, and application of doctrines such as stare decisis.