In a segment titled "Watchman," last night's Daily Show took on President Obama's latest attempt to assuage national fears about surveillance and NSA overreach without promising any actual reforms.
Obama began the speech by delving into a mini-history of surveillance. He "had a rather impossible task," Jon Stewart explained, "so he thought rather than attempt it, why not talk so long and boringly that people stop listening?" But eventually Obama arrived at a concrete idea. He proposed a "new approach, "one in which the providers, or a third party, retain the bulk records with the government accessing information as needed, [but] without the government holding the bulk metadata."
The takeaway was simple: "Not even the government trusts the government!" Stewart responded in amazement.
Then came another modest reform: "Effective immediately we will only pursue phone calls that are two steps removed from a number associated with a terrorist organization." But, Stewart queried, what if you call Papa John's to order a pizza but it's the same Papa John's that a terrorist called to order pizza? Is that two degrees?
Finally, Obama promised to "work with Congress to ensure that we build a broad consensus for how to move forward"—which, Stewart pointed out, is just political speak for "It's never going to happen."
Stewart closed with a final example "of just how convoluted our position as a country is on this issue." Obama praised 1970s reforms to domestic spying programs. But those reforms came about thanks to burglars who broke into the FBI's field office and leaked government documents. So, at this rate, it'll just be another 40 or so years before Edward Snowden is hailed as a hero.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.