Monday, April 27, 2009

NY Times wins Jotman's Fox News Award

The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

- Ron Suskind, New Yorker,

This week Jotman's Fox News Award* goes to The New York Times for dutifully referring to "water-boarding" as an "enhanced interrogation technique."

On Sunday Times' editor Doug Jehl explained why the paper has refused to call water-boarding "torture."
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?
On what basis! History perhaps? Sullivan blogs that knowing how to "read" should provide a person with the intellectual tools necessary to figure out for himself whether or not water boarding is a form of torture. Although this question -- does history not count? -- explains why the editor's defense is sheer nonsense, it does not explain why the editor ignores history. In spite of history, in spite of his literacy and education, the editor of the "paper of record" awaits a court's legal judgment. How could this be?

Recall that the president** had declared "either you are with us or against us" on Nov. 6, 2001. The message was clear. Ever-obedient to truth power, the New York Times, as with the rest of the US news media, got the message. If it ever came to a choice between American power and historical truth, the newspapers would side with the government. Had not the attacks of 9/11 "changed everything?"

Also recall that another contemporary water-boarder, Pol Pot, had given Cambodia its own Year Zero (1975). Ultimately, perhaps the appeal of a Year Zero is the appeal of torture.

People will say anything to get torture to stop. And that's the whole point. Tortured, prisoners admit to what you want them to admit to; the confessions of the tortured become the building blocks for the invention of a new reality. Last week a report provided just such a rationale for the initiation of torture during the Bush-Cheney administration. Columnist Frank Rich summed it up like this:
The report found that Maj. Paul Burney, a United States Army psychiatrist assigned to interrogations in Guantánamo Bay that summer of 2002, told Army investigators of another White House imperative: “A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful.” As higher-ups got more “frustrated” at the inability to prove this connection, the major said, “there was more and more pressure to resort to measures” that might produce that intelligence.

... there were no links between 9/11 and Iraq, and the White House knew it. Torture may have been the last hope for coercing such bogus “intelligence” from detainees who would be tempted to say anything to stop the waterboarding.
Torture may well have helped the Bush regime to invent a justification for the Iraq war. But newspaper editors helped them get away with it, dutifully pushing the reset button on history.

*Jotman's Fox News Award is a feature at that began early 2008. It goes to a media organization that has gone the extra mile during the course of the week to make the public more stupid. (Otherwise corrupting the ethic of creativity and global citizenship.) Previous winners listed here.
** Apparently almost every US newspaper editor's "Commander in Chief," despite the fact that according to Article II, Section 2 of the US Constitution, this designation only refers to a president's relationship to US armed forces personnel during wartime (more here)

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