Template for News Stories on Government Data Gathering

surveillance3.jpgNSA warrantless wiretaps. NSA collection of phone records. CIA gathering of financial records.

The stories are endless. To help out reporters, I thought I’d just write a quick and easy template to make reporting a little bit easier. So here it is:

Under a top secret program initiated by the Bush Administration after the Sept. 11 attacks, the [name of agency (FBI, CIA, NSA, etc.)] have been gathering a vast database of [type of records] involving United States citizens.

“This program is a vital tool in the fight against terrorism,” [Bush Administration official] said. “Without it, we would be dangerously unsafe, and the terrorists would have probably killed you and every other American citizen.” The Bush Administration stated that the revelation of this program has severely compromised national security.

“This program is a threat to privacy and civil liberties,” [name of privacy advocate] said. But [name of spokesperson for Bush Administration] said: “This is a very limited program. It only contains detailed records about every American citizen. That’s all. It does not compromise civil liberties. We have a series of procedures in place to protect liberty.”

“We’re not trolling through the personal data of Americans,” Bush said, “we’re just looking at all of their records.”

The [name of statute] regulates [type of record] and typically requires a [type of court order]. Although the [name of agency] did not obtain a [type of court order], the Bush Administration contends that the progam is “totally legal.” According to the Attorney General, “we can [do whatever we did or want to do]. The program is part of the President’s emergency war powers.”

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23 Responses

  1. Andy says:

    The sad thing is that the media will probably use it.

  2. bob says:

    One correction:

    The line that says; “It only contains detailed records about every American citizen” should read “It only contains detailed records about every American citizen that is currently in communication with a known terrorist.”

  3. Luke says:

    LOL! Too funny!

  4. bob is a tool says:

    All citizens records are included. Only the records of citizens that are currently in communications with a known terrorist will be examined. Or perhaps the records of citizens that are in contact with citizens that are currently in communications with a known terrorist. Or at least someone the administration calls a terrorist. Or perhaps someone who looks funny.

    But only those guys. Otherwise, totally restrainen and in control. Anything else would should utter contempt for the rule of law.

  5. T, says:

    Al Qaeda doesn’t need an intelligence program when they can just subscribe to the New York Times.

  6. N.Stein says:

    I’m forwarding this link to our yahoo group this afternoon.

    Please visit us at http://www.nlgchicago.org

  7. I’ve created a little dynamic version of this press release template at my website. Hope you enjoy.

  8. Tony says:

    Perhaps it would be helpful to journalists if it were grammatically correct as well.

    “Without it, we would ??be?? dangerously unsafe, and the terrorists would …”

    But then again, no one edits online news stories anyway.

  9. thomas J. Herling says:

    This is scarily much like the old Mad Magazine “write your own news story” articles, which, unfortunately like all good parody, came very close to the truth.

    The real problem is that we hear and read these same type of stories so often that we begin to get used to them.

    Also, isn’t the standard Administration line the hopelessly vague “information about persons or organizations with suspected ‘ties’ to al Quaeda?”


  10. Thomas J. Herling says:

    Whoops! I’ve just used the name “al Quaeda” in a communication, so now I’m going to be tracked by the NSA because now I’m a person with “suspected ties…”


  11. Zach Pickens says:

    haha, very nice. It’s like Mad Libs, a very sad, unfortunately accurate, version of Mad Libs.

  12. Lynn says:

    *ha*!! thanks for the laugh > very clever.

  13. Robby says:

    You’ve been EFF-ed. Kinda like slashdotted…but not.

    Anyway, sadly accurate parody.

  14. cshardie says:

    How dare you make it easier for the media to tell the terrorists our government is watching them!


    Good post.

  15. dschist says:

    Good stuff. But I think you’re missing a paragraph or two:

    Administration officials expressed anger at the disclosure of the program by the [newspaper or magazine breaking the story; default value: New York Times]. “Some in the press have made the job of defending against further terrorist attacks more difficult by insisting on publishing detailed information about vital national security programs,” [high-ranking administration official] said, adding that the program provides ‘valuable intelligence’ and has been ‘successful in helping break up terrorist plots,'” though no specific examples of intelligence or foiled plots could be recollected.

    Other supporters of the Administration went further. [Representative/Senator] [rabid, boot-licking, pseudo-fascist congressman], [Republican/Democrat] of [state] and the chairman of the [rubber-stamping committee of some kind], released a letter in which he called on the attorney general to investigate whether [publishing newspaper]’s decision to publish the article violated the Espionage Act.

  16. Richard Keeney says:

    Its one of those sad things that everybody knows is true, but nobody knows what to do about except laugh.

  17. Should’ve included a line about not needing warrants to collect the information because 9/11 changed everything. Other than that, superb.

  18. Lauren says:

    Too true. 😛

  19. Jamie says:

    My guess is the person that wrote this and the people who think it is funny are the same people who would be screaming at the Administration if they weren’t doing anything and there was another attack. Then it would be “How could you let this happen? Why didn’t you do something to prevent it?”

  20. Zerra says:

    I’ve taken the liberty of making a Canada-friendly version of your template. On my blog at


  21. Michael Vail says:

    The media playbook on government data mining is well known. They will make it known that the [name of agency] is busy protecting you from those bad terrorists and they are busy keeping you safe.There is also a subtle question which attempts to keep civil liberty groups from making a big stink. We have heard this same question on Fawx News, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS and NBC, “You’re not with the terrorists are you?” We are at war with East Asia and you cannot critize our government when we are at war. This excrement is spammed by the establishment poster boy Sean Hannity almost three times a week. These media mockingbirds are singing the same song and they get their music sheets from the white house.