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NYT/NPR on Torture


I was intending to write a post in late April about the NYT’s avoidance of “torture” as a description of the “enhanced” or “harsh” or “brutal” interrogation techniques practiced by the CIA. This intent was in response to the weekly Public Editor column that appears each Sunday in the NYT’s Week in Review section. Clark Hoyt now writes the column, and on April 26 he examined the NYT’s practice. An excerpt:

And why not, then, go all the way to torture? Jehl said that when the paper is discussing what is generally regarded as the most extreme interrogation method the C.I.A. used, waterboarding, “we’ve become more explicit in saying in a first reference that it’s a near-drowning technique” that Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and many other experts “have called torture.” But he said: “I have resisted using torture without qualification or to describe all the techniques. Exactly what constitutes torture continues to be a matter of debate and hasn’t been resolved by a court. This president and this attorney general say waterboarding is torture, but the previous president and attorney general said it is not. On what basis should a newspaper render its own verdict, short of charges being filed or a legal judgment rendered?” Jehl argued for precision and caution. I agree.

Well, I sure don’t agree. Because one president says something is black and the other says it’s white, the correct journalistic practice is not to decide the truth to the extent that it’s in the paper’s power to discern, so they will be neutral?

I never did write that post. But that was eight weeks ago. Now it’s National Public Radio’s turn. On Sunday, NPR’s ombudsman Alicia Shepard weighed in. Below is one of the worst passages from her execrable piece:

It’s a no-win case for journalists. If journalists use the words “harsh interrogation techniques,” they can be seen as siding with the White House and the language that some U.S. officials, particularly in the Bush administration, prefer. If journalists use the word “torture,” then they can be accused of siding with those who are particularly and visibly still angry at the previous administration.

Huh? And if journalists say the earth is 4.5 billion years old — give or take a few million — are they siding with scientists over creationists? What about the truth. Or, as Glenn Greenwald put it in his post yesterday, “Here’s the nub of the matter – the crux of journalistic decay in America. Who cares if NPR is ‘seen’ as siding with the White House or its critics? How it is perceived — and who it angers — should have nothing to do with how it reports. Its reporting should be guided by the truth, by verifiable facts, and by the objective meaning of words.”

See Greenwald’s full post for a broader discussion.

Categories: Media, Torture
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