Reporters' Roundtable: Part II

The roundtable continues with a discussion on the empty seats at last night's GOP debate and a federal judge's slamming of the Patriot Act. Joining in are Jordan Flaherty, editor of Left Turn magazine; John Yearwood, world editor for The Miami Herald; and Corey Dade, southern correspondent for The Wall Street Journal.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

In case you just joined us, we're putting the news of the week under the microscope with Jordan Flaherty, editor of Left Turn magazine, John Yearwood, world editor for the Miami Herald, and Corey Dade, southern correspondent for The Wall Street Journal.

Welcome back everyone. Let me just jump right in.

Corey, it's your turn at that to really take a look at these debates. There was this - there was the debate, but it was anticlimactic in a way compared to the coverage of the debate, and host Tavis Smiley has been very vocal about saying how disappointed he was, but he wasn't the only one. Newt Gingrich, Ken Mehlman, many people who have been longtime Republican stalwarts have come out and criticized the failure to participate.

Is that remarkable to you? What does that do for the whole discussion of these debates?

Mr. DADE: Well, I think it focuses an obvious criticism on the Republicans that won't really manifest until the general election. I mean, the truth of the matter is, the staunchest Republicans vote in the primaries, the middle-grounders or the swing voters do not, and the same with the Democratic Party.

So candidates really don't feel compelled to court the support of people who aren't going to vote in the primaries. Once you get through the primary, then you broaden your reach to reach the voters who you wouldn't otherwise hear from. And that is sort of Political Science 101.

The problem with that is that if you give the appearance in your behavior that you are ignoring certain groups, then that's where it comes back to bite you potentially. And I think to the credit of the news media, I think for the fact that this election has started so early, so far in advance, the credit in the news media - to the credit of the news media, they have done a good job in shining a light on their behavior up until then, so that people understand and voters can eventually engage on the fact that they shouldn't be ignored regardless.

CHIDEYA: I'm actually going to turn, Jordan, to a different topic. A U.S. district judge struck down a couple of provisions of the Patriot Act saying that she criticized current law for allowing the government to, quote, "conduct surveillance and searches of American citizens without satisfying the probable cause requirements of the Fourth Amendment."

How big is a decision like this?

Mr. FLAHERTY: It's a step forward, but I have to say, it's too little too late. It's been years that we've had prisoners in Guantanamo, which is an outrage to every kind of right that we should have - the extraordinary rendition that this government has been doing, the widespread spying on citizens of this country. There are so many aspects of what the Bush administration has done with rights in terms of completely eviscerating them. That this is a small step, and it's important.

But part of what the Bush administration has done is also to do a remarkable change in what our judges are with the appointments that they've done of judges across the federal system. So it's a small step, and it's important, but I think we need a really radical change in our judges and in the laws that are passed, and the future administration to undo the harm that's done by the Bush administration.

CHIDEYA: Corey, one of the cases cited was an investigation looking for the culprits in the 2004 Madrid train bombings, actually did a lot of research on the wrong person…

Mr. DADE: Right.

CHIDEYA: …the government did. Is this something that most American citizens are concerned about? How does your paper cover this?

Mr. DADE: Well, I think, our paper has been pretty consistent in raising this question. And I think Americans have been very consistent in expressing concerns about whether or not they are sacrificing more and more of their civil liberties in exchange for safety from terror. And so I think going forward, a thick vein for media coverage, news media coverage here is to look at the fact that this decision wasn't made in Washington. It didn't come from inside the political power structure of Washington or Congress. And so it came from another branch of government, obviously, a federal judge in this case.

But what's interesting is this is - you know, the coverage here should look at now, you know, whether or not the Patriot Act and the administration's use of surveillance tactics may kind of be getting dealt - death by a thousand cuts. In other words, you know, seemingly disparate grassroots sort of decisions by courts in other parts of the country that are slowly reining in the Patriot Act and the administration's efforts to expand it.

CHIDEYA: John, is that really a concern or a trend that you're looking at, the sort of localization of challenges to the Patriot Act?

Mr. YEARWOOD: Oh, absolutely, Farai. One of the things, too, about this case that really just leaves your mouth just open is the degree to which the FBI - I know Corey was talking earlier about prosecutorial discretion - but in terms of the discretions in which that the FBI used in going after this young man, and the judge, in fact, sort of scolded the FBI for the fact that they had provided the court misinformation. And this defense from the court was that the FBI did that deliberately.

That, unfortunately, is one of the things that this Patriot Act seems to condone. You know, had it not been this case who would have known what else is happening on the auspices of the Patriot Act. So it's clearly something that not only our newspaper, but others need to spend some time looking at.

CHIDEYA: Well, John, Corey, Jordan, thanks so much.

Mr. DADE: Thank you.

Mr. FLAHERTY: Thank you, Farai.

Mr. YEARWOOD: Thank you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: Jordan Flaherty is editor of Left Turn magazine, joined us from Audioworks in New Orleans, Louisiana. We also had John Yearwood, world editor for the Miami Herald, and Corey Dade, southern correspondent for The Wall Street Journal.

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