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On NYT avoiding the word ‘Torture’

A short post on the NYT approach to reporting news when the news which does not reflect well on the USG or the US Military:

FAIR (founded by Jeff Cohen) is an organization which challenges the US MSM on their Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting. They recently called out the NYT on NYT’s avoidance of the word ‘Torture’ to describe the activities of USG agents (Item 1) and the lack of a mention of a Report on Torture published by Amnesty International (Item 2).

Item 1 is an ‘explanation’ by the NYT of why they avoided using the word ‘torture’ for more than a decade when they described what any reasonable person would call torture, if it was being carried by an agent of the USG.

The situation was ‘murky’, ‘vague’….the word ‘torture’ has a ‘legal’ meaning they assert …..

Also, now that the Obama administration has decided not to prosecute they can now use the word.  This is an example of America’s vaunted US MSM ‘independent free press’.

Now, more than a decade after the torture began, after the American public has been confused by ‘reputable’ US MSM parroting the garbage given them by the USG and the US military, now the NYT decides to tell Americans what every other nation already knows — that the USG tortures its detainees.

Item 2 is just another example of an attempt by the NYT to withhold information about criminal behavior by USG agents from the American people. The NYT made no mention of an Amnesty International report until called out by FAIR.


1.  From the NYT — Dean Baquet

Dean Baquet is the executive editor of The Times.

Over the past few months, reporters and editors of The Times have debated a subject that has come up regularly ever since the world learned of the C.I.A.’s brutal questioning of terrorism suspects: whether to call the practices torture.

When the first revelations emerged a decade ago, the situation was murky. The details about what the Central Intelligence Agency did in its interrogation rooms were vague. The word “torture” had a specialized legal meaning as well as a plain-English one. While the methods set off a national debate, the Justice Department insisted that the techniques did not rise to the legal definition of “torture.” The Times described what we knew of the program but avoided a label that was still in dispute, instead using terms like harsh or brutal interrogation methods.

But as we have covered the recent fight over the Senate report on the C.I.A.’s interrogation program – which is expected to be the most definitive accounting of the program to date – reporters and editors have revisited the issue. Over time, the landscape has shifted. Far more is now understood, such as that the C.I.A. inflicted the suffocation technique called waterboarding 183 times on a single detainee and that other techniques, such as locking a prisoner in a claustrophobic box, prolonged sleep deprivation and shackling people’s bodies into painful positions, were routinely employed in an effort to break their wills to resist interrogation.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department, under both the Bush and Obama administrations, has made clear that it will not prosecute in connection with the interrogation program. The result is that today, the debate is focused less on whether the methods violated a statute or treaty provision and more on whether they worked – that is, whether they generated useful information that the government could not otherwise have obtained from prisoners. In that context, the disputed legal meaning of the word “torture” is secondary to the common meaning: the intentional infliction of pain to make someone talk.

Given those changes, reporters urged that The Times recalibrate its language. I agreed. So from now on, The Times will use the word “torture” to describe incidents in which we know for sure that interrogators inflicted pain on a prisoner in an effort to get information.’

From FAIR,

New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan (8/19/14) responded to a FAIR Action Alert (8/18/14) by saying that she agreed coverage of an Amnesty International report about US torture in Afghanistan “would have benefited Times readers.”

The Action Alert noted that while Times executive editor Dean Baquet announced (8/7/14; FAIR Blog, 8/8/14) that the paper would henceforth call torture by its right name, even when committed by the United States, the paper failed to cover a major report (8/11/14) linking the US to torture.

Responding to messages inspired by the alert, Sullivan went to Times foreign editor Joseph Kahn, who said the paper’s Kabul bureau “decided it did not add much to what we have already, on many occasions, reported. Much of it appeared to be recycled from United Nations reports and other news coverage, including our own.”

He added:

I do feel as though we have a responsibility to cover credible allegations of abuses involving the United States around the world. I do not feel we have an obligation to write about a report on the subject simply because one appears.

Sullivan noted that Kahn “pointed out a few of the many examples of articles the Times has written on this subject.”

It’s true that the Times has covered the topic of torture in Afghanistan–as our Action Alert pointed out. What none of the stories Kahn points to in Sullivan’s column do, however, is talk about US personnel engaging in torture in Afghanistan–which the Amnesty report documents.

None of the four articles Sullivan links to as examples of how the Times has covered the story actually reports on “allegations of abuses involving the United States.” They are mainly stories about accusations that the Afghan government was involved in torture “despite intensive international [i.e., US] efforts to halt abuses” (New York Times, 2/11/13). One of the articles (5/21/13) even reported  that “there has been no testimony directly tying American soldiers to the abuse.” The Amnesty report does contain such testimony–but Times readers won’t be hearing about it.

Sullivan concludes that “the Amnesty report pulled together a great deal of information–especially about the role of the American military–in a comprehensive and forceful way that would have benefited Times readers.”  FAIR agrees.  And it also would have been a chance for the Times to prove that it’s really ready to talk frankly about torture committed by US forces.

FAIR thanks all of the activists who wrote to the Times, and to public editor Margaret Sullivan for responding to these concerns.

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