The media’s shameless coverage of the missing Malaysian plane shines a light on a larger problem

For the better part of two weeks, much of America has been wrapped up in the mystery of Malaysian Airlines flight 370. The media should win a gold medal for stretching a story with no real new facts into a wall-to-wall news event lasting weeks.

Apparently the media was giving Americans what they wanted. New Pew Research Center polling finds that the plurality of Americans, 48 percent, say the news gave the story the right amount of coverage.

Even more amazing is how closely many Americans followed the story.  Forty-four percent of Americans claimed to have followed the Malaysian flight story closely.  That far-surpasses their captivated interest in stories like Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which only 15 percent say they followed closely.

We all like a little mystery and sensationalism, but let’s be careful that we don’t take our eye off of some truly important balls that are flying our way as we are staring at the skies obsessing over a missing plane.

Here’s a sensational story for you.

What if I told you that someone hacked into top-secret Senate computers, which had millions of documents related to the most secretive practices of the CIA? Woah, that’s pretty juicy! Espionage, secrets, spying.

What if I told you that it was our own government – the CIA itself – that spied on these Senate computers? Woah, that’s even juicier! Our own intelligence agency spied on members of Congress.

These weren’t just any members of Congress. These were the senators and their staffs charged with the task of overseeing the CIA and its practices. Woah, so the very people who were being spied on were those in charge of checking the CIA’s power? Yup!

Is that not “sexy” enough for the American people? Let’s keep going.

Turns out that the CIA was upset that the Senate had obtained a copy of a document they didn’t want the Senate committee to see. It was an internal CIA document, known as the “Panetta Review,” which is an internal review of the enhanced interrogation techniques used in the aftermath of 9/11. Woah, that’s some pretty heavy stuff.

Screw transparency. The CIA may want to hide things like this from its overseers but “oops!” this one slipped through the cracks. Clearly they didn’t want it to, so the document was apparently removed. And this wasn’t the first time documents suddenly vanished from these Senate computers.

When asked before about why certain documents on these Senate computers would suddenly disappear, like in the case of this “Panetta Review,” the CIA blamed it on the contractors used to set up the Senate with these documents. But that excuse didn’t hold, and the CIA eventually blamed the disappearance of official CIA documents on the White House.

So we have CIA documents going missing, allegedly at the direction of the White House, from computers used by the Senate to investigate and oversee the CIA. When the Senate inquires about these missing documents, the CIA spies on the computers to see how they got it and then accuses the Senate staffers of hacking into the CIA to steal the documents.

This sounds like it could at least be a made-for-TV drama! We have spying, torture, theft, a cover-up, destruction and withholding of evidence, threats, all amongst some of the biggest players in our government – the CIA, the Senate and the White House.

And we haven’t even gotten into the constitutional implications of this entire brouhaha.

The CIA-Senate dust-up will have more impact on Americans than the Malaysian plane.

The ability of the branches of government to transparently oversee each other is crucial to maintaining the integrity of our political system. Checks and balances is a fundamental pillar of our foundation, which ensures one branch of government doesn’t grow too powerful.

Without proper Congressional oversight, the CIA, the NSA and the executive branch as a whole could run roughshod over our Constitution and our rights and there won’t be a damn thing we can do about it.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) gave a speech on the Senate floor on March 11th where she laid out this issue in a measured fashion.  She explained the crux of what’s really at stake:

But Mr. President, the recent actions that I have just laid out make this a defining moment for the oversight of our Intelligence Community. How Congress responds and how this is resolved will show whether the Intelligence Committee can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation’s intelligence activities, or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee.  I believe it is critical that the committee and the Senate reaffirm our oversight role and our independence under the Constitution of the United States.

We don’t want to be so distracted that we allow the executive branch to run off with the whole kit and caboodle and we barely blinked an eye.


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