Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Verizon, BellSouth Deny Releasing Records

Well, isn't this interesting? To date, two of the three carriers that the USAToday alleged had an agreement with the NSA to hand over records of all domestic calls are denying such a deal exists.

A few thoughts: First, even if they had, I don't see a problem per se. Tracing phone records and matching phone numbers is simply a smart way of tracking terrorists. Even from the article, it is clear that the United States was not listening to conversations, which is exactly what the President promised months ago. But that is not the main point anymore.

Is this some kind of huge coverup, or simply an erroneous story? The USA Today now says:
"We're confident in our coverage of the phone database story," Anderson added, "but we won't summarily dismiss BellSouth's and Verizon's denials without taking a closer look."
What does this mean? Apparently, BellSouth's spokesman never agreed to the reporter's allegations when contacted about the story, and the paper is simply satisfied with the fact that BellSouth did not "challenge" the story. "Without taking a closer look" - shouldn't that closer look have been taken before publishing what obviously was a huge story?

Furthermore, Verizon notes an error on the part of the paper:
Verizon also said USA Today erred in not drawing a distinction between long-distance and local telephone calls.

"Phone companies do not even make records of local calls in most cases because the vast majority of customers are not billed per call for local calls," Verizon's statement said.
Another excellent point. All of this, of course, leaves a large question: Who are the anonymous sources whom USA Today relied on in publishing this story? Are they people with an axe to grind against the President or the Republican Party? More and more, it seems that anonymous sources are simply using the media as proxy to pursue an agenda. It behooves the media to act more responsibly in publishing stories, particularly from sources unwilling to stand by their words. It is not without reason that many question the neutrality of the media - stories such as this only further that impression.

Take a closer look, indeed.