Bush Wins on Wiretaps - Times Plays It (Mostly) Straight

Thursday's lead story by Justice Department reporter Eric Lichtblau gave the Bush administrationdue credit foryesterday'svictory in expanding federal anti-terrorism surveillance powers ("Senate Approves Bid To Broaden Wiretap Powers - Another Bush Victory - Final Vote - Telecom Companies Granted Legal Immunity"). Lichtblau called it "The biggest revamping of federal surveillance law in 30 years." The bill passed the Senate on bipartisan support by a clear 69-28 margin, with a strong plurality of Democrats voting for it, including Sen. Barack Obama, who had once opposed granting legal immunity to the telecoms to the point of threatening a filibuster.

In the last three years, reporter Lichtblau has become infamous by breaking two stories revealing classified details of two anti-terrorist programs - the wiretapping of terror suspects without warrants and the monitoring of suspicious international banking transactions. He clearly finds Bush's view of government surveillance of terrorist suspects repugnant (as shown in his book "Bush's Law," which Times Watch reviewed for the New York Post).

Given that, this story, marking a resounding defeat for one of Lichtblau's pet issues, is pretty straightforward and balanced. Lichtblaudoes say the actual vote, a resounding defeat for the left, was "almost anti-climactic" after the weeks of hard political fighting, and that the measure "includes a divisive element that Mr. Bush had deemed essential: legal immunity for the phone companies that cooperated in the National Security Agency wiretapping program he approved after the Sept. 11 attacks."

Given the bill passed by a 69-28 vote, it must not have been all that "divisive," except among left-wing Democrats.