No Comment — December 4, 2008, 7:46 am

The Gray Lady’s Torture Problem

On Wednesday, the New York Times had another psychotic episode. The paper’s editorial page has been an eloquent voice on the national stage regarding torture. But often enough the news it relies upon for its editorials never finds its way into its reporting–and its reporting on the issue is not only consistently left in the dust by its competition (particularly by the Washington Post), but, often enough, is not much more than half-baked gossip. That’s the case with this piece by Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane. The story could have grappled with the many subtle and complex policy issues that the incoming administration faces in implementing its no-torture pledge at the CIA. Instead, however, the authors treat us to what sounds suspiciously like an extended pouting session from the camp of John O. Brennan.

Brennan and his friends obviously believe that rejecting him is a slap in the face to all veterans of the war on terror–an absurd proposition that the Times then proceeds to treat as indisputable fact. But the Times‘s language is even more revealing. As Andrew Sullivan points out, the Times chokes and sputters and is unable to mouth the word “torture.” As I discovered in studying the paper’s reporting over a period of year, when a neighbor plays his stereo too loudly in the apartment next door, that is “torture.” But when a man is stripped of his clothing, chained to the floor in a short-shackle position, subjected to sleep deprivation and alternating cold and heat, and left to writhe in his own feces and urine—that, in the world of the Times, is just an “enhanced interrogation technique.” Shane and Mazzetti do us one better in this piece. Figures who criticize torture and Brennan’s fitness to be DCI are, we learn, the “left wing of the Democratic Party.” That’s a remarkable characterization for a group that is led by retired generals and admirals, as well as many of the nation’s most prominent religious leaders.

But the most striking thing about the piece is that the authors obviously don’t have a clue about what’s going on inside the Obama transition team. And on that, I extend my congratulations to camp Obama, which is doing a laudable job of keeping its deliberations to itself.

I discuss the piece further with Charles Kaiser at Columbia Journalism Review here.

Update: Senator Feinstein Was Misquoted

But wait: it gets even better. The Times writers were busy yesterday explaining that the key news value of their story was its disclosure that two senators, most notably Californian Diane Feinstein, the incoming chair of the intelligence committee, were backing off the Obama team’s “no torture” pledge. Spencer Ackerman checked the quote attributed to Feinstein in the Times article, and discovered that one key sentence had been hacked off, creating the false impression that Feinstein was opposing the uniform anti-torture approach for which she had voted in the current session. Here’s the text that the Times elided: “my intent is to pass a law that effectively bans torture, complies with all laws and treaties, and provides a single standard across the government.” So when will the Times correct its distorted reporting? And what exactly were Mazzetti and Shane up to with this very bizarre submission?

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

January 2015

Come With Us If You Want to Live

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Body Politic

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Problem of Pain Management

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Game On

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Love Crimes

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Body Politic·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“‘He wrote all these love poems, but he was a son of a bitch,’ said a reporter from a wire service.”
Illustration by Steven Dana
Article
Love Crimes·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If a man rapes a woman, she might be forced to marry him, because in Afghanistan sex before marriage is dishonorable.”
Photographs © Andrew Quilty/Oculi/Agence VU
Article
Game On·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union had posed a truly existential threat.”
Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Come With Us If You Want to Live·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I was startled that all these negative ideologies could be condensed so easily into a positive worldview.”
Illustration by Darrel Rees
Article
Christmas in Prison·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Just so you motherfuckers know, I’ll be spending Christmas with my family, eating a good meal, and you’ll all be here, right where you belong.”
Photographer unknown. Artwork courtesy Alyse Emdur

Acres of hemp grown by “patriotic‚” U.S. farmers in 1942 at the behest of the U.S. government:

36,000

A study suggested that the health effects of exposure to nuclear radiation at Chernobyl were no worse than ill health resulting from smoking and normal urban air pollution.

Greenpeace apologized after activists accidentally defaced the site of Peru’s 2,000-year-old Nazca Lines when they unfurled cloth letters reading “time for change” near the ancient sand drawings. “We fully understand,” the group wrote in a statement, “that this looks bad.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today