It would be nice if Chris Matthews revisited this interview in future segments on MSNBC. Having broadcast Obama's answers without objecting or asking for clarification—perhaps understandably, given the format, the number of subjects he hoped to cover, and the fact that Matthews doesn't specialize on these issues—he has a responsibility to address at least the president's most misleading assertions, lest viewers who took Obama at his word remain misinformed about the NSA. This is actually something that news networks always ought to do after high-profile interviews. In the moment, it can be difficult to call bullshit on a political leader, especially when the interview ranges across many subjects. But after the fact they can be held accountable for inaccuracies and misrepresentations. If that were always done, politicians would be more honest in real time.
But the more common practice when presidents mislead on cable news is for the broadcasters involved to neither revisit their answers nor correct false impressions they left. Leaving these particular remarks unchallenged does a disservice to MSNBC viewers as they try to understand the ongoing, high-stakes surveillance debate.
* Here are the remarks analyzed above, as Obama delivered them:
Now, I think—I can't confirm or get into the details of every aspect of what the NSA does. And the way this has been reported, the Snowden disclosures have identified some areas of legitimate concern. Some of it has also been highly sensationalized, and you know, has been painted in a way that's not accurate.
I've said before and I will say again, the NSA actually does a very good job about not engaging in domestic surveillance, not reading people's emails, not listening to the content of their phone calls. Outside of our borders, the NSA is more aggressive. It's not constrained by laws.
And part of what we're trying to do over the next month or so is, having done on independent review and brought a whole bunch folks, civil
libertarians and lawyers and others, to examine what's being done, I'll be
proposing some self-restraint on the NSA, and you know, to initiate some
reforms that can give people more confidence.
But I want everybody to be clear. The people of the NSA generally are
looking out for the safety of the American people. They are not interested
in reading your emails. They're not interested in reading your text
messages. And that's not something that's done. And we've got a big system
of checks and balances, including the courts and Congress, who have the
capacity to prevent that from happening.