What happened to the adage about following the money in coverage of the NSA surveillance revelations?
It's one of those adages reporters are supposed to have echoing in their heads: Follow the money. But it doesn't always (often?) happen in the journalistic big leagues, especially when it's money that's connected to Big Money. Prudent journalists, which is to say jouralists with a watchful eye on their careers, generally know better than to go crashin' around in them thar woods.
Which has led David Sirota to ask, in the column "How Cash Secretly Rules Surveillance Policy": "Have you noticed anything missing in the political discourse about the National Security Administration''s unprecedented mass surveillance?"
David notes that the hoopla occasioned by the NSA surveillance revelations has indeed included discussion about "the balance between security and liberty" and "at least some conversation about the intelligence community's potential criminality and constitutional violations." But there hasn't been much talk about "how cash undoubtedly tilts the debate against those who challenge the national security state."
He points out that coverage of Edward Snowden sometimes includes references to his employer, security contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, deriving 99 percent of its multibillion-dollar revenues from the federal government, and he notes that we are told both that "there are high-minded, principled debates about security" and that there's a "massively profitable private industry [estimate at $56 billion a year, he notes] making billions a year from the policy decisions that emerge from such a debate." But "few in the Washington press corps are willing to mention that politicians' attacks on surveillance critics may have nothing to do with principle and everything to do with shilling for campaign donors."
These are just examples from two companies among scores, but they exemplify a larger dynamic. Simply put, there are huge corporate forces with a vested financial interest in making sure the debate over security is tilted toward the surveillance state and against critics of that surveillance state.
In practice, that means when those corporations spend big money on campaign contributions, they aren't just buying votes for specific contracts. They are also implicitly pressuring politicians to rhetorically push the discourse in a pro-surveillance, anti-civil liberties direction.
In the context of money and national security, there is a clear imbalance -- there are more monied interests in the business of secrecy and surveillance than there are organized interests that support transparency and civil liberties. That imbalance has consequently resulted in a political environment so dominated by security-industry cash that the capital's assumptions automatically and unconsciously skew toward that industry's public policy preferences. Those preferences are obvious: more secrecy, more surveillance, and more lucrative private contracts for both.
If the simplest explanation is often the most accurate, then this financial imbalance is almost certainly why the pro-surveillance terms of the political debate in Washington are so at odds with public opinion polling. Big Money has helped create that disconnect, even though Big Money is somehow written out of the story.
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