You might be thinking, "How is that possible? Didn't the New York Times print the story exposing the surveillance program, and doesn't that show the media challenges power?"
Well, not really, when you consider that the Times actually held the story for a year. As the Washington Post reports, the Times' essentially held the story because of exactly what I said: deference to power, and its own bottom line. First, deference: the Times editors now tell us they held the story because the White House told them to. Then, profit: we learn that what changed between now and a year ago was that a Times reporter, James Risen, is about to publish a book about the entire affair and thus publishing the story now will mean maximum pre-sale buzz in January when the book is released - a key for any big book sales.
But even more interesting than these big embarrassing clues about the media's motives are the very small ones. Notice, for instance, that in describing the President's clearly illegal behavior, the media are parroting the White House's terminology - terminology specifically crafted to make it sound as if Bush was operating on quasi-legal grounds.
In fact, only until the very end of the Times piece do we get a glimpse that the White House actually knew it didn't have the power or authority to grant, when the Times reports "President Bush did not ask Congress to include provisions for the N.S.A. domestic surveillance program as part of the Patriot Act and has not sought any other laws to authorize the operation." Why? Not because the White House thought a domestic surveillance operation was legal. But because "the proposal would be certain to face intense opposition on civil liberties grounds." They knew it wasn't legal, and they knew it wouldn't be made legal by Congress, but they went ahead and did it anyway. And yet as if playing a role in an Orwell novel, the media is still using terms that imply the President had every legal right to do it in the first place.
Sadly, other major media seem to be parroting this nonsense. The Associated Press, for example, reports that "President Bush said Saturday he has no intention of stopping his personal authorizations of a post-Sept. 11 secret eavesdropping program in the U.S." That's right: "his personal authorizations," as if he can just go around "authorizing" whatever he wants without regard to the fact that such powers are not his to authorize.