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:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

February 2017

Remainers

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

JB & FD

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Blood and Soil

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Grim Fairy Tale

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Trump: A Resister’s Guide

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Little Things

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Illustration (detail) by Steve Brodner
Article
The Patient War·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

(1) To need his glasses and be struck by an awareness that they are not at hand, an ordinary enough circumstance for Frederick Douglass, except sometimes it’s accompanied by a flash of extraordinary dread. If not quite panic, certainly an unease disproportionate to a simple recurring situation. Dread that may be immediately extinguished if he locates his horn-rimmed, owlish-eyed spectacles exactly where he anticipated they should be. He sees them and almost sighs. Nearly feels their slightly uncomfortable weight palpable on his nose. Finding the glasses enough to reassure him that he remains here among the living in this material …
Photograph (detail) © Andrew Quilty/Oculi/Redux
Article
Little Things·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

(1) To need his glasses and be struck by an awareness that they are not at hand, an ordinary enough circumstance for Frederick Douglass, except sometimes it’s accompanied by a flash of extraordinary dread. If not quite panic, certainly an unease disproportionate to a simple recurring situation. Dread that may be immediately extinguished if he locates his horn-rimmed, owlish-eyed spectacles exactly where he anticipated they should be. He sees them and almost sighs. Nearly feels their slightly uncomfortable weight palpable on his nose. Finding the glasses enough to reassure him that he remains here among the living in this material …
Photograph (detail) of miniatures by Lori DeBacker by Thomas Allen
Article
Blood and Soil·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

(1) To need his glasses and be struck by an awareness that they are not at hand, an ordinary enough circumstance for Frederick Douglass, except sometimes it’s accompanied by a flash of extraordinary dread. If not quite panic, certainly an unease disproportionate to a simple recurring situation. Dread that may be immediately extinguished if he locates his horn-rimmed, owlish-eyed spectacles exactly where he anticipated they should be. He sees them and almost sighs. Nearly feels their slightly uncomfortable weight palpable on his nose. Finding the glasses enough to reassure him that he remains here among the living in this material …
Illustration (detail) by Nate Kitch
Article
JB & FD·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

(1) To need his glasses and be struck by an awareness that they are not at hand, an ordinary enough circumstance for Frederick Douglass, except sometimes it’s accompanied by a flash of extraordinary dread. If not quite panic, certainly an unease disproportionate to a simple recurring situation. Dread that may be immediately extinguished if he locates his horn-rimmed, owlish-eyed spectacles exactly where he anticipated they should be. He sees them and almost sighs. Nearly feels their slightly uncomfortable weight palpable on his nose. Finding the glasses enough to reassure him that he remains here among the living in this material …
Illustration (detail) by Matthew Richardson

Chances that an American knows the position of his or her senators on health-care reform:

1 in 3

Climate experts proposed creating a fleet of cloud-seeding yachts that will pump water vapor into the atmosphere to thicken global cloud cover, thereby reflecting more sunlight, in order to counteract the effects of global warming.

In San Antonio, a 150-pound pet tortoise knocked over a lamp, igniting a mattress fire that spread to a neighbor’s home.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Who Goes Nazi?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."

Subscribe Today