The technology giants that were implicated in the NSA/data mining bombshell have so vigorously denied any acknowledgment of the program that The Washington Post has had to quietly pull back its claim that the major firms were complicit in the snooping. In the original version of the Post story that went up on Thursday, the paper claimed that nine companies mentioned by name in the report "participate knowingly" in the widespread collection of data from their servers.
Reporters Barton Gellman and Laura Poitras did write that "several" of the companies they reached out to before publication had denied knowledge of the program, but that did not cause them leave out that assertion at publication. Once the story broke, however, the companies went on the defensive, issuing very public denials that they were in on the plan. The denials were so stout that the paper seems to have walked back that small, but important aspect of the story. It appears the phrase "participate knowingly" has been removed from the piece and an explanatory paragraph added in that subtly acknowledges it may have been the result of a misunderstanding. There are no notes or indications on the Post website that the story had been altered.
Given the fact that NSA acknowledges the PRISM program exists (and defends it as vital and useful) and the fact that tech companies claim so strongly to know nothing about it, it seems there's going to be some debate over the next few days about how exactly the program worked. There is also sure to be lots of fingerpointing and accusations that tech companies are either lying or foolish. (Everyone already thinks that about the government.) While the Director of National Intelligence has promised more information about how it was supposed to work, the squabble over logistics and responsibility is likely to overshadow the larger debate about whether this should be happening at all.
Finally, the Post was not the only paper to get caught changing their tune on the NSA story as it's been unfolding so quickly. The New York Times also rolled back their scathing editorial that attacked president's information "dragnet." (And that was originally written even before the Internet component was made known.)
After grabbing everyone's attention with their assertion that "The administration has now lost all credibility," the paper later went back and amended this key pullquote to add "on this issue." As a web publication, we obviously appreciate the ability to edit stories on the fly (and this final version is the one that appears in today's paper), and the Times editorial page editor says the change was made for "clarity's sake," but it may play into the hands of Times critics who already believe its editorial board lives to carry water for the President. (Update: Even the Times's public editor thinks there's should have been an update to the editorial.)
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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