You’re gonna love this post. It shows how the L.A. Times takes an expert who disagrees with their agenda — and quotes him in a way that makes him sound like he agrees with it.
With the help of Ken at Popehat, I recently took apart a biased Los Angeles Times article on the PATRIOT act as applied to unruly airline passengers. The article argued that the law too often targets relatively innocent passengers. Together, Ken and I used court documents to show how the article misrepresented the facts of actual cases to make the defendants sound more innocent than they actually were. Ken also applied his experience as a former federal prosecutor to explain what a tiny change the PATRIOT Act had made in existing law.
In support of its thesis that the law is overbroad and has been misused, the paper quoted a law professor named Nathan Sales:
Indeed, the law has given airlines new flexibility to clamp down on unruly behavior. But the intent of the Patriot Act provisions was to put terrorists in violation of the law before they could execute an actual takeover, said Nathan Sales, a law professor at George Mason University who helped write the Patriot Act when he served in the Justice Department.
But Sales acknowledged that in the fervor to protect the skies, the practical application of the law has strayed.
“A woman spanking her child is not as great a threat to aviation as members of Al Qaeda with box cutters. That much is clear,” he said.
Sales appears again here:
“If you get out of your seat and walk to the front of a plane and talk about bombs, you get what you deserve,” said Sales, the law professor.
On the other hand, Sales adds, “There are other sanctions than throwing the book at a person who has mental health issues.”
These quotes, taken together, make it sound like Sales is mostly opposed to the changes made by the PATRIOT Act. Don’t they?
But now, Sales has written a piece that makes it clear that he is not opposed to these changes after all:
Should rowdy airline passengers be prosecuted under the USA PATRIOT Act?
On the surface, the question seems to answer itself: PATRIOT, enacted by Congress in the wake of 9/11, was intended to protect against a terrorist attack, not the drunk in seat 16A. Dig a bit deeper, however, and there are good reasons to hold people accountable when they prevent pilots or flight attendants from doing their jobs.
(All bold emphasis in this post is mine.)
I can see the L.A. Times quote now: “PATRIOT, enacted by Congress in the wake of 9/11, was intended to protect against a terrorist attack, not the drunk in seat 16A.”
Well, he said it, didn’t he?
Sales, unedited by the agenda reporters at the L.A. Times, tells us:
Let’s start with a little history. It’s been a federal crime to interfere with airline crews since 1961. The PATRIOT Act made a minor adjustment to that law: It’s illegal now to attempt or conspire to do what the statute already barred actually doing. The basic idea is prevention: We shouldn’t have to wait until a hijacker slits a flight attendant’s throat to impose criminal liability. We should be able to prosecute him for the steps he takes along the way to complete the assault — ignoring an order to return to his seat, pulling a box cutter out of his pocket, and so on.
This, by the way, is precisely the argument that Ken at Popehat made at the time. Turns out the expert quoted by the L.A. Times agrees — it’s just that, somehow, what we now know to be his full opinion on the subject didn’t really get expressed in the article.
What surprised me the most is that Sales, the L.A. Times expert, explicitly links the L.A. Times article as an example of an article with a flawed thesis:
Recently, several newspapers (including the Los Angeles Times) have run stories about passengers who engaged in loud arguments or other rowdy behavior and were charged with violating the PATRIOT Act. The stories suggest that the law needs to be changed so that minor acts of misconduct will not land a passenger in jail.
The PATRIOT Act has attracted such notoriety in some quarters that journalists naturally blame everything they can on it. But the reality is that most of these people could have been prosecuted even if PATRIOT never existed. PATRIOT isn’t putting them behind bars; the 1961 law is.
This again echoes the argument made by Ken at Popehat.
The rest of the piece goes on like that. Prof. Sales strongly defends the law as written, and explains why it makes sense for it to be as broad as it is. He cites passenger safety and flexibility as the main justifications for leaving the law as written. In another quote that the L.A. Times would cherry-pick, he acknowledges that, “as with any broad statute, [the law] can be applied too severely.” But, he argues, the solution is not to rewrite the law, but for prosecutors to exercise prosecutorial discretion. His ultimate conclusion is clear: “It would be ill-advised to enact new legislation restricting the statute to terrorist assaults, as some have suggested.”
Well, that’s clearly what the L.A. Times suggested. And the reporter quoted Prof. Sales in a way that made it sound as if he agreed.
But he doesn’t.
Read his entire piece. And then ask yourself: when Prof. Nathan Sales talked to the reporter for the L.A. Times, did he really fail to make his point clear, as he does in this article?
Or did he make his point just as he did in this article. . . only to see his words left on the cutting room floor?
I know which way I’d bet.