Newspapers waffle on ‘torture’ and ‘occupation’

on 10 Comments

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. 

10 Responses

  1. jawad
    July 2, 2010, 1:07 pm

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

    I think that it is worse than that. Acquiescence to propaganda would be if they allowed both sides to sway them. They dont care that someone disputes the word “terrorism”, or that someone was disputing “torture” back when others were doing it. No. They are the originators of propaganda.

  2. lysias
    July 2, 2010, 1:19 pm

    The articles about the study are unclear about whether the change in usage by the New York Times and the other papers began in 2002 or 2004. If it began in 2002, the papers pretty clearly knew something (presumably, the U.S. use of waterboarding) that they concealed from their readers.

  3. lobewyper
    July 2, 2010, 1:20 pm

    And I’ve believed all this time that torture was merely a type of “serious persuasion!”

  4. DICKERSON3870
    July 2, 2010, 2:13 pm

    RE: “… American newspapers essentially stopped calling water boarding torture during the War on Terror…”
    MY COMMENT: One nation’s torture is another nation’s sexual gratification.

  5. hophmi
    July 2, 2010, 2:18 pm

    Can you point out one instance where the NY Times referred to all Palestinian resistance as terrorism?

  6. Sumud
    July 2, 2010, 9:23 pm

    It’s a silly question. The NYT and other mainstream media, and politicians, use much more subtle methods than that to distort the situation in Palestine.

    Downplayed, or ignored totally:
    • Palestinian’s legal right to defend themselves.
    • Israeli violence (much deadlier that Palestinian violence) and the grave security situation for Palestinians.
    • The violence of the settlers and IDF’s complicity.
    • The military occupation of Palestinian land, including illegal land theft, illegal settlements and illegal resource extraction (eg water, Gaza gas [if that offshore field is active yet]).
    • The illegality of, and humanitarian crisis caused by, the siege of Gaza.
    • Israel’s serial breaches of international law, Security Council resolutions and the ICJ opinion on the apartheid wall.
    • The apartheid situation – 2 legal systems operating in the territories, lack of universal suffrage for all those whose lives are controlled by Israel.
    • The US role in the 2006 election, and legitimacy of Hamas as a socio-political organisation.

    .. and so on.

  7. hayate
    July 2, 2010, 9:58 pm

    “Newspapers waffle on ‘torture’ and ‘occupation’”

    Well, the zionist’s propaganda organs cant just go about giving a bad name to a zionist specialty. People might not think well of zionists afterwards.

  8. VR
    July 3, 2010, 7:23 pm

    As part of my “may we” series, interspersed throughout my site I have devoted a good amount of attention to torture. Actually, there has never been a time that the USA did not employ torture, it is just that over the last few years it has been institutionalized. This is the last step in a corrupt process, making something “law” just means it has reached the apex os use and is no longer done under cover. Here is something from circa 2006 –


  9. lysias
    July 4, 2010, 9:22 am

    New article by Mark Landler in the NYT that appears to share the Israelis’ view that the U.S., by signing a UN document that urged Israel to sign on to the NPT, showed its unreliability towards Israel: Nudge on Arms Further Divides the U.S. and Israel:

    WASHINGTON — It was only one paragraph buried deep in the most plain-vanilla kind of diplomatic document, 40 pages of dry language committing 189 nations to a world free of nuclear weapons. But it has become the latest source of friction between Israel and the United States in a relationship that has lurched from crisis to crisis over the last few months.

    At a meeting to review the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in May, the United States yielded to demands by Arab nations that the final document urge Israel to sign the treaty — a way of spotlighting its historically undeclared nuclear weapons.

    Israel believed it had assurances from the Obama administration that it would reject efforts to include such a reference, an Israeli official said, and it saw this as another sign of unreliability by its most important ally. In a recent visit to Washington, Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, raised the issue in meetings with senior American officials.

    With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scheduled to meet President Obama on Tuesday at the White House, the flap may introduce a discordant note into a meeting that both sides are eager to portray as a chance for Israel and the United States to turn the page after a rocky period.


    But despite the better atmospherics, some analysts said the nuclear nonproliferation issue symbolizes why Israel remains insecure about the intentions of the Obama administration. In addition to singling out Israel, the document, which has captured relatively little public attention, calls for a regional conference in 2012 to lay the groundwork for a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. Israel, whose nuclear arsenal is one of the world’s worst-kept secrets, would be on the hot seat at such a meeting.

    At the last review conference, in 2005, the Bush administration refused to go along with any references to Israel, one of several reasons the meeting ended in acrimony, without any statement.

    The article does admit that Israel has nuclear weapons, something our establishment media rarely reveal.

    • hayate
      July 4, 2010, 1:16 pm

      “New article by Mark Landler in the NYT that appears to share the Israelis’ view that the U.S., by signing a UN document that urged Israel to sign on to the NPT, showed its unreliability towards Israel”

      Massa strongly disapproves of unreliability amongst the serfs.

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