By Ryan Isakow
The National Security Agency has had a busy few months as a media frenzy raised questions about the scope of controversial data collection programs. Yesterday Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) got a floor vote for an amendment that would have defunded collection of domestic phone records for anybody not currently under an investigation. The amendment, which came the closest to putting new restrictions on the NSA since Edward Snowden leaked information on domestic spying programs at the beginning of June, failed in a 205-217 vote in the House.
If nothing else, it sure got Amash a jump in media attention.
The amendment, which came within 7 votes of passing, demonstrates continued support for restrictions on the NSA’s authority. But is it enough to change anything? While opponents of the current NSA regime have been making progress, they are beginning to lose out on media attention as the story drags on. We looked at coverage of the National Security Agency in national news stories and found a general decrease in coverage over time.
While the NSA has received huge spikes national news coverage – especially during the initial revelations, outrage from EU leaders, and the Congressional hearings at the beginning of July – the overall trend has undoubtedly been toward less coverage. Whether this is due to decreasing interest, story fatigue as the saga drags on, or a lack of new developments is unclear. The vote is the biggest NSA related story in weeks, and brought an uptick in national news stories along with it. Still, the number of news stories is less than half of the coverage it got during peak revelations. It’s still unclear whether the post-vote uptick in coverage is the start of revived interest in the story or – more likely – one of many spikes in attention that will subside until the next development.
We took this opportunity to take another look at how coverage of Snowden has changed in the past month, and found a similar pattern.
For better or worse, the NSA story is closely tied to Snowden – when one changes, so does the other. Will changes in Snowden’s amnesty requests revive interest in the story? Or will legislative pushes like Rep. Amash’s detach the story from Snowden, and change the narrative to focus solely to the NSA? Time will tell; in the meantime, we’ll be keeping an eye on Rep. Amash’s coverage as he becomes more prominent in fights over civil liberties versus security.