01 July 2010

Orwell's Shadow (2) ~ How "Torture" Disappeared From (or, Was Banished By) American Journalism

"Yet the most dangerous side of our new semantic war, our use of the words of power – though it is not a war, since we have largely surrendered – is that it isolates us from our viewers and readers. They are not stupid. They understand words in many cases – I fear – better than we do. History, too. They know that we are drawing our vocabulary from the language of generals and presidents, from the so-called elites, from the arrogance of the Brookings Institute (sic) experts, or those of those of the Rand Corporation. Thus we have become part of this language." ~ Robert Fisk
In my last post (here) I recommended the essay by Robert Fisk on journalism and the language of power from which I've lifted this passage. The "we" and "our" he refers to are journalists. His complaint is that the press (print and broadcast) have embraced the language of the powerful. Sometimes this is because of the putative need to retain "access"; sometimes it reflects the convention of being "fair" or "neutral" or "objective." Either way, capitulating to the powerful and their claims leads, as Fisk indicates, to decidedly partial and political reporting.

As if on cue, yesterday Glenn Greenwald posted on a newly released report on the U.S. media entitled "Torture at Times: Waterboarding in the Media." The study finds that the four largest circulation national print news outlets - The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today - capitulated more or less completely to the campaign by the Bush Administration to redefine interrogation techniques commonly recognized to be torture as something other than torture. They did so in a sharp break from their own historical practice, reaching back nearly a century, and from their own descriptions of practices in other countries. ("They" torture, "we" don't; we simply rely on "enhanced interrogation techniques.") These outlets, thereby, did not maintain "neutrality" or "objectivity" or "fairness" but actively connived in legitimating the torture policy that the Bush administration implemented.

This is a damning report. We are not talking about the clowns at FOX "News" here. We are talking about the purportedly "liberal" media. Fortunately, as Fisk notes, people are not stupid. They know torture when they see it and can call it by its name.
P.S.: While I don't want top ring my own bell on this one (too loudly), this is a pattern that I have posted about repeatedly - see here and here and here, for instance.

P.S.(2): You might want to see Andrew Sullivan's post on this, and the reply issued by the lackeys at The New York Times. Why read Pravda, when you can read the American mainstream media.

P.S.(3): Update 7/6/2010 ~ See this follow-up by Glenn Greenwald on the vapid response of editorial higher-ups at The Times.

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