More Misleading on "Domestic Eavesdropping"

Three times, the N.S.A.'s spying on international communications of suspected terrorists is called "domestic eavesdropping," as if they were monitoring all of our phone calls.

The print version of Thursday's lead story gets off to an awkward start. The headline reads: "Panel In Senate Backs Bush Plan for Monitoring - Domestic Eavesdropping," with the two words after the hyphen as a subhead under the main headline.

Either TimesWatch's reading comprehension skills aren't what they used to be, or a Times copywriter mistakenly converted the last two words of the actual headline into a subhead.

The phrase "Domestic Eavesdropping" itself is seriously misleading, but reporters Eric Lichtblau and Kate Zernike repeat that formulation in the first paragraph and again in the fifth.

"The White House took a critical step on Wednesday in its effort to get Congressional blessing for President Bush's domestic eavesdropping program, but it ran into increasingly fierce resistance from leading Republicans over its plan to try terror suspects being held in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba."

And: "On the domestic eavesdropping program, strong White House lobbying began to pay dividends on Wednesday as the Senate Judiciary Committee approved on a party-line vote two legislative approaches favored by the White House, along with a third the Bush administration opposes. The program would allow the National Security Agency to eavesdrop without a warrant on the international phone calls and e-mail of people in the United States."

Notice that part about "international phone calls and e-mail"? The N.S.A. spy program monitors international communications from suspected terrorists in America, not domestic. It's an important distinction, one the Times invariably fails to note, perhaps in order to make the program sound more like an invasion of privacy than it truly is.