December 13, 2014

How the media covered for the torture mafia

Fair -  National Public Radio, following the lead of the Washington Post (FAIR Blog, 12/9/14) (and in contrast to the New York Times–FAIR Blog, 8/8/14), tries to avoid applying the word "torture" in its own voice to the tortures described in the recent Senate Intelligence Committee report. Here's host Robert Siegel (All Things Considered, 12/9/14):
In the years after 9/11, the CIA conducted harsh interrogations, more brutal and widespread than many realized. And worse, those interrogations did not produce any intelligence that we could use in any significant way to fight terrorism. Those are the conclusions of a report partially released today by the Democratic chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Reactions to what's known as the torture report show a country divided.
NPR correspondent Tamara Keith went on to refer to Sen. Dianne Feinstein discussing "a CIA program that used techniques she says amounted to torture." In her own words, Keith reports that "the CIA program of secret overseas detentions and so-called enhanced interrogation methods began shortly after the September 11 attacks."

Soon enough, "so-called" becomes just what they're called. Says Keith: "The key finding: These enhanced interrogation methods didn't make America safer." When a critic of the report, CIA director John Brennan, is introduced, NPR describes the torture whose benefits he touts as "these interrogations."

This is a longstanding practice of NPR's. The network's then-ombud Alicia Shepard made it clear back in 2009 (6/21/09): "NPR decided to not use the term 'torture' to describe techniques such as waterboarding but instead uses 'harsh interrogation tactics,'" she reported:
The problem is that the word torture is loaded with political and social implications for several reasons, including the fact that torture is illegal under US law and international treaties the United States has signed.
The Post's Philip Bump has a piece (12/9/14) about the "old debate" over torture terminology. In the wake of a 2010 Harvard study about how media outlets use the term, some prominent outlets–including the Washington Post–wrestled with how to craft coherent policies:
    Most media outlets have tried to figure out where to draw the line. NPR's ombudsman addressed it in 2009, outlining the six ways in which use of "torture" was considered by the agency. After the Harvard report was released, media reporter Brian Stelter reached out to Cameron Barr, then The Post's national security editor (He's now the national editor). "After the use of the term ‘torture’ became contentious," Barr said, "we decided that we wouldn't use it in our voice to describe waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques authorized by the Bush administration. But we often cited others describing waterboarding as torture in stories that mentioned the technique." That continues to be The Post's policy; Tuesday's story about the report's release doesn't refer to it as torture — except when citing President Obama.
So the Washington Post will not call something by its name if using that word is thought to be "contentious." By that standard, the paper in the nation's capital will never call it torture when the US government does it.


There's an unfortunate impulse, when you or someone you're close to does something wrong, to turn the situation around so that you can seem like the victim. That ugly human defense mechanism was on display on ABC's nightly newscast for two days running as the network previewed the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on the CIA's torture program.

The report revealed shocking, even sickening treatment of the intelligence agency's captives, more than two dozen of whom turned out to have no connection at all to militant groups. But ABC's focus (wasn't on  the US government abuses detailed in the report, but "the fear that its release could threaten American lives."

With a graphic reading "ON ALERT: WILL REPORT PUT AMERICANS IN DANGER?," correspondent Martha Raddatz told viewers that the report includes "some details never heard before, and many people fearing tonight that revealing them will lead to violence."

Raddatz makes clear who she expected to become violent: "The Muslim world has erupted many times before when the US and the West have been accused of religious and cultural slights."

"Cultural slights"–perhaps that's a reference to the report's revelation that the CIA made  "threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee"?

Raddatz's chief source for the claim that releasing the report would put Americans in danger was House Intelligence chair Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), who stated this speculation as fact: "It will in fact incite violence, and it's likely to cost someone their life." Raddatz brought Rogers back later in the report to make the case that (in Raddatz's words) "if this report is released, groups like ISIS will take full advantage."

The next day (12/8/14), Raddatz was back to warn that "diplomatic and military facilities around the globe are bracing for potential violence targeting Americans." And not only could the report lead to violence, but Raddatz's CIA sources suggested that the lack of torture might be dangerous in itself, as "the CIA argues that waterboarding was key…in stopping future plots against America."


NBC aired a long interview--nearly as long as the report on the Senate's findings--with former CIA (and NSA) director Michael Hayden, who even disputes that the tactics in the report were torture. Anchor Brian Williams told viewers that Hayden was "accused in today's report of providing misleading information in the past."

That's a mild characterization; in fact, as the Washington Post (12/9/14) showed, Hayden's 2007 Senate testimony about CIA torture was revealed to be full of distortions and evasions--from the number of prisoners held by the CIA to his claims that "punches and kicks...have never been employed" and that the "most serious injury" was bruising.

The exposure of Hayden's dishonesty seemed to play no role in NBC's questioning of him, in which he was given ample time to argue that most countries treat their prisoners worse than the CIA does.

[CBS] aired an interview with Michael Morell, a former CIA deputy director and current CBS News contributor. Pelley made clear that their analyst was "speaking in defense of the CIA." Morrell called the Senate report "deeply flawed." Instead of posing tough questions, Pelley asked him questions like this: "How are CIA officers reacting to this today?"

Did we say "equal time"? Between the CIA rebuttal segment and the Morell interview, CBS Evening News devoted about 50 percent more time to excuses for torture than it did to the torture report itself.

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