Patterico's Pontifications

3/17/2009

L.A. Times Expert Speaks Out: I Disagree With the Thesis of That Article That Quoted Me

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General,Terrorism — Patterico @ 12:20 am

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.

22 Comments

  1. It is as though they are used to nobody checking to see if they are being dishonest.

    They never learn.

    We can count on Hacks defending them.

    Comment by JD (40d677) — 3/16/2009 @ 8:43 pm

  2. Everybody Loves Raymond

    Robert and Amy’s Wedding

    Editing, yes, it all comes down to editing

    I say the L.A. Slimes just got caught with its pants down around its ankles while hiding in the bushes and peeking in your neighbor’s bedroom window late at night!

    Please, please please L.A. Slimes, go bankrupt, go BK, the sooner the better for all involved. You liberal hacks, ha, gotcha!

    Comment by J. Raymond Wright (e8d0ca) — 3/16/2009 @ 9:33 pm

  3. it’s the la times: there’s no bet involved, only a “gimmie”.

    how soon before they join the PI? i want a nice loft/office downtown…….

    Comment by redc1c4 (9c4f4a) — 3/16/2009 @ 9:44 pm

  4. It’s still either a bad law or a bad application of the law. The first example could and should have been charged under some other law related to battery or child abuse, while the second example is straightforward criminalization of rude behavior – which is a malicious and violative active of multiple times the magnitude of the original offense.
    Sure, the Times article is misleading insofar as it leaves out important context, but you’re committing basically the same offense. You’re nailing the shoddy journalism and creating the false implicit suggestion that the law is therefore okay – just as they nailed the abuse of the law and creating the false suggestion that the defendants were innocent.
    It seems like an excuse to absolve the feds for prosecuting people for being rude or fooling around sexually on an airplane. Which is.. crappy journalism.

    Comment by glasnost (395b7f) — 3/16/2009 @ 9:54 pm

  5. Glasnost apparently did not read any of the prior articles, nor what the authors of the legislation had to say about its objections.

    Comment by JD (40d677) — 3/16/2009 @ 10:12 pm

  6. “Sure, the Times article is misleading insofar as it leaves out important context
    You’re nailing the shoddy journalism”

    glasnost admits Patterico is right but spends the rest of his comment on his personal gripes about the law itself.

    Comment by daleyrocks (5d22c0) — 3/16/2009 @ 10:28 pm

  7. Did you read our posts, glasnost? Or did you just read the LAT article and accept it at face value?

    ‘Cause if the latter, you should read our posts — mine and Ken’s. They’re quite well documented.

    That article was crap. Utter crap.

    Comment by Patterico (cc3b34) — 3/16/2009 @ 10:49 pm

  8. Patrick (again), it’s Spring Street!

    PI gone, the footsteps are getting closer.

    Comment by KtM (e2c6d2) — 3/16/2009 @ 10:53 pm

  9. What the LA Times did in using a singular quote to misrepresent a position is so frequently done by posters here that is almost laughable to hang the Times for it.

    It is a mode of “logical argumentation” which is deployed with glee to label folks and then subsequently ignore whatever else is written.

    Comment by Jimminy'cricket (637168) — 3/17/2009 @ 4:46 am

  10. This law makes as much sense to me as most gun control laws, here is my question, if the passenger INTENDS to try and hijack the plane with his boxcutter, is he really going to be deterred when the flight attendant tells him he’ll be arrested upon landing if he doesn’t return to his seat?
    “Well, I was going to hijack this plane and slit some throats, but I can’t now that they won’t let me out of my seat without getting in trouble”

    A scolding is not going to deter a killer.

    Comment by Thatguy (2bda65) — 3/17/2009 @ 4:55 am

  11. The Deciders! Layers and layers of editors!

    Die faster, please.

    Comment by Techie (9c008e) — 3/17/2009 @ 6:01 am

  12. So is the intentionalism on the part of the writer, the interviewee or the reader. The point of the story was to condemn the Patriot Act, bring us back to the good ole days of 9/10 and the likes of Argenbright security.

    Comment by narciso (4e0dda) — 3/17/2009 @ 7:23 am

  13. Our good ol’ Patterico is back! Yay!

    Comment by Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (0ea407) — 3/17/2009 @ 7:45 am

  14. It is as though they are used to nobody checking to see if they are being dishonest.
    .
    The editors have an agenda. They don’t care that they are caught being liars of the first order, as long as the number of readers who catch on is relatively small. In other words, they expect to be caught. Lying and being caught are an issue only to the extent it interferes with advancing the agenda.
    .
    Another was to view the situation the “news” puts itself in is “it’s not about presenting reality.”

    Comment by cboldt (3d73dd) — 3/17/2009 @ 7:48 am

  15. Another great analysis.

    If there were any justice in this world, you would get a Pulitzer.

    Comment by Patricia (2183bb) — 3/17/2009 @ 11:39 am

  16. Patricia!
    Why would you want our esteemed host to be placed in the same disgraced company as Walter Duranty and Chuck Phillips?

    Comment by Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R., (badb95) — 3/17/2009 @ 1:03 pm

  17. True, Bradley!

    Why don’t we start a new award for citizen journalists?

    Comment by Patricia (2183bb) — 3/17/2009 @ 8:04 pm

  18. Good idea, Patricia. I hereby nominate Patterico as the first inductee in the Citizen Journalist Hall of Fame.

    We could also call it the Cathy Seipp Memorial Award for Honest Reporting.

    Comment by Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (0ea407) — 3/18/2009 @ 12:06 am

  19. Did you read our posts, glasnost? Or did you just read the LAT article and accept it at face value?

    ‘Cause if the latter, you should read our posts — mine and Ken’s. They’re quite well documented.

    That article was crap. Utter crap.

    I read your posts. I would not have been able to reference that the woman in your first example was hitting her kid, if I had not read your posts.

    That’s why I said, in my response, “yeah, the LATimes article could be considered misleading”. I don’t think the article meets my standards.

    But, ironic or not, the point of the article – that this law is crazy bullsh*t – is right, and those two examples still could have demonstrated that. Just include the context about the woman and the drunk, and quote someone making the obvious point that one of them was doing something already illegal anyway, and the other one was – literally – doing nothing more than being obnoxious. None of these people should have been arrested for “potentially interfering slash actively interfering with flight crew”. That’s broad enough to drive trucks through. it’s begging to be abused. It’s already being abused.

    We don’t, or shouldn’t, throw people in jail for following around waitresses asking to be served drinks, or even threatening to have “a confrontation” with them. I’ve had fifteen confrontations this week already. If that’s a threat of violence, who *isn’t* guilty?

    Comment by glasnost (395b7f) — 3/18/2009 @ 7:55 pm

  20. This is the new Leftist version of fake but accurate, right glasnost?

    Comment by JD (fecec9) — 3/18/2009 @ 8:10 pm

  21. Care to specify exactly what you think is wrong about what I’m saying, JD? Or do you actually operate by the principle that “fake but accurate” never happens in the real world? For example, if one of those douch*bag Republican vote fraud activists submits fake evidence of voter fraud, like happened in (I believe) Florida, can I now safely assert that voter fraud does not exist?

    So, am I wrong that the woman hitting her kid could have been charged under ordinary criminal laws, or am I wrong that the drunk obnoxious dude could have acted in an absolutely identical manner in a bar, restaurant, club, train, street corner, or coffeeshop in most of the free world and gotten nothing worse than thrown out on his butt, and that that’s actually the level of punitive sanction appropriate for being a d*ck, rather than prosecution?

    Comment by glasnost (ce73a0) — 3/19/2009 @ 3:01 pm

  22. am I wrong that the drunk obnoxious dude could have acted in an absolutely identical manner in a bar, restaurant, club, train, street corner, or coffeeshop in most of the free world and gotten nothing worse than thrown out on his butt, and that that’s actually the level of punitive sanction appropriate for being a d*ck, rather than prosecution?

    And you can joke about bombs in a bar, restaurant, club, train, street corner, or coffeeshop and have absolutely nothing happen to you…but you can’t joke about bombs in airplanes without getting into serious trouble. It’s been that way for longer than I can remember, this is nothing new.

    What’s your point? That air travel laws are suddenly too strict? Good luck with that.

    Comment by Steverino (69d941) — 3/19/2009 @ 3:27 pm

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