Friday, June 7, 2013

Morning Brief: NSA spying stories force major news organizations to react; Apple clears the decks for WWDC

Only one story is dominating the news the last two days, the National Security Agency's data mining via the gathering of phone records and its reported direct access to the systems of the tech giants – I suppose one could call it two stories, but in the mind of the public it is all about privacy.

As you are most likely aware, The Guardian broke the Verizon phone call records story late on Wednesday and things have not been the same since then. It was a major coup for a news organization trying hard to break into the U.S. market, and is having success at it, at least if measured by website traffic.

From a media perspective what we are seeing is an old fashioned muckraking effort, drawn right out of the days of William Randolph Hearst. The news, generated originally by U.S. expat blogger and journalist (they can be the same, right?) Glenn Greenwald, is so huge that it has forced the hands of the biggest news outlets – either run with the story, or be seen as irrelevant, or worse, on the other side of the issue.

Yesterday the NYT posted an editorial that tore into the Obama administration, saying "President Obama has been caught overreaching in the use of his powers" and concluding: "The administration has now lost all credibility on this issue. Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive branch will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it."

The Washington Post, though, has gone on step further by now being a major source on the story, posting a breaking story on the NSA's PRISM Internet data mining operation simultaneously with a similar story from The Guardian. No less than seven headlines concerning the administration's domestic spying efforts currently can be seen "above the fold" on the WaPo's website this morning.

The story generated by The Guardian's U.S. team was precisely what The Huffington Post would have killed for. The online news and gossip site has continued to grow, and while rarely generates original, important news content, nonetheless has become a go-to place of news for many. In this story the website finds itself following rather than leading and it clearly is feeling the pressure to be seen as part of the parade. In response it posted a photoshopped picture that morphed Barack Obama and George Bush into one shot, a bold, if childish attempt to be part of the conversation. When it first appears one wondered the photo would be pulled as reaction came in, instead it remains dominating the home page this morning.

Why this story is generating this kind of response can be seen in a poll currently on the WSJ website that asks if the Obama administration's spying efforts can be considered essential to maintaining security or unreasonable. By a three-to-one margin respondents say such efforts are unreasonable. This result, appearing in a paper not exactly friendly to the administration, may not seem surprising, but the issue of domestic spying is more complex than simply an opportunity to bash the President. This is an issue that unites both the left and right, isolating those who shrug and spin the old yarn that only those with something to hide need fear of government overreach.

The story also comes hard on the heels of a series of stories involving the President that involve privacy issues, some of which are far more complicated than this one. The IRS targeting of Tea Party groups, for instance. Then there were two cases of spying on news organizations (the AP and a Fox News reporter) that clearly upset news organizations. But none of these stories have cut across party lines and involved all citizens the way the Verizon/PRISM stories have.

All any really big national news story, the regional metro papers are left trailing far behind. Neither of the major Tribune Company papers even featured the story on their home pages until today, for instance. In Chicago, neither the Tribune nor the Sun-Times is leading with the story due to the Blackhawks win last night over the Kings. Hockey is dominating.

This morning my iTunes software showed no app updates available. While this might not be rare for you, TNM maintains a portfolio of media apps that is rather large. For every app installed on my iPhone or iPad there are dozens more that lurk inside iTunes waiting for word of an update. But there was nothing to see this morning.

The explanation is that the Worldwide Developer Conference begins Monday and things tend to shut down during that time. So whatever is in the pipeline to be released or updated needs to make its way through the system before Monday.