Almost to a man and woman, American journalists have stepped up to the plate in the wake of the disclosure that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been tapping the mobile phone calls of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and 34 other US allies, to laughingly dismiss the embarrassing and damaging revelation with jokes derived from a celebrated scene in Casablanca.
That’s the bit where Vichy French police chief Capt Renault tells Rick that he is shocked, shocked!, to discover that gambling is happening in Rick’s Cafe and this disgraceful revelation leaves him no option but to close the bar. As he does so, a waiter cum dealer delivers his evening’s winnings which he quickly pockets and exits stage right, with only a flicker of guilty embarrassment on his face.
My bet is that the Obama White House’s press office quickly circulated that clip in the wake of the Merkel story breaking and dutifully the D.C. press corps picked it up and repeated it. I say that for the simple reason that when a story like that gets so much play it usually means the journalists all got it from the same source, which in Washington, more often than not, means the White House.
The less than opaque aim was to suggest that Merkel’s complaint – and those of French President Hollande and Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and goodness knows who else – was a fake since everyone knows that everyone else spies on everyone else so what the hell is she complaining about!
(Note, incidentally, the silence on this aspect of the affair from the latest British poodle, David Cameron, suggesting perhaps that he is quite happy that the NSA listens in to his phone calls to Rupert Murdoch)
Well maybe, but two points occur. One is the total submission of much of the Beltway media to the establishment’s political agenda (an aspect of the US newspaper and TV industry embedment with political power that has been underscored repeatedly since Edward Snowden’s defection, qua Jeffrey Toobin amongst others).
The other is this: imagine the story was reversed and it was revealed that the German intelligence services had been tapping Barack Obama’s mobile phone calls and that they were privy, for instance, to the President’s recent dealings with Iran or his conversations with GOP leaders during the recent budget standoff. Imagine the horror and outrage of the Washington media then; you can almost visualize the stern, indignant faces staring out of cable TV? No jokes about Casablanca for sure!