Newspapers waffle on ‘torture’ and ‘occupation’

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Many people, including me, get exercised about the New York Times’ bias in its coverage of the question of Palestine.  

An article reporting the findings of a recent Kennedy School study, which showed that American newspapers essentially stopped calling water boarding torture during the War on Terror, contains this apologia from a NYT spokesman:

“As the debate over interrogation of terror suspects grew post-9/11, defenders of the practice (including senior officials of the Bush administration) insisted that it did not constitute torture,” a Times spokesman said in a statement. “When using a word amounts to taking sides in a political dispute, our general practice is to supply the readers with the information to decide for themselves. Thus we describe the practice vividly, and we point out that it is denounced by international covenants and in American tradition as a form of torture.”

Andrew Sullivan’s response was biting: 

"So if anyone wants to get the NYT to use a different word in order to obfuscate the truth, all they need to do is make enough noise so there is a political dispute about a question. If there’s a political dispute, the NYT will retreat. And so we now know that its core ethos is ceding the meaning of words to others, rather than actually deciding for itself how to call torture torture. … If newspapers will not defend the English language from the propaganda of war criminals, who will? And it is not as if they haven’t made this call before – when they routinely called waterboarding torture. They already had a view. They changed it so as not to offend. In so doing, they knowingly printed newspeak in their paper – not because they believed in it, but because someone else might.

"This is not editing. It is surrender. It is not journalism; it is acquiescence to propaganda."

For those who follow the Arab-Israeli conflict, all of this is old news.  Cheney & Co. were operating from a media playbook that Zionist pressure groups in America figured out a long time ago.  The Occupied Territories are not occupied, they are contested and disputed.  Israel does not assassinate, it engages in extra-judicial killings.  Palestinian resistance, all of it, is terrorism (but you’re a romantic freedom fighter if you’re a Jew and murder people to advance your political agenda).  And so it goes.  Once you raise a stink and re-describe the same event with different language, you contest a consensus and force the news source into taking a side by continuing to use traditional conventions and habits of naming.  It’s a dirty game.  But with the advent of the blogosphere, it’s increasingly hard to be successful at it.  The new media hasn’t been good to hasbara. 

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