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:

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

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

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.

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

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2015

Weed Whackers

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tremendous Machine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Goose in a Dress

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Genealogy of Orals

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Romancing Kano·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:

The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.

leadership
service
integrity
creativity

Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.

Article
The Prisoner of Sex·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It is disappointing that parts of Purity read as though Franzen urgently wanted to telegraph a message to anyone who would defend his fiction from charges of chauvinism: ‘No, you’ve got me wrong. I really am sexist.’”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
Gangs of Karachi·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In Karachi, sometimes only the thinnest of polite fictions separates the politicians from the men who kill and extort on their behalf.”
Photograph © Asim Rafiqui/NOOR Images
Article
Weed Whackers·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Defining 'native' and 'invasive' in an ever-shifting natural world poses some problems. The camel, after all, is native to North America, though it went extinct here 8,000 years ago, while the sacrosanct redwood tree is invasive, having snuck in at some point in the past 65 million years.”
Photograph by Chad Ress
Article
The Neoliberal Arts·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“College is seldom about thinking or learning anymore. Everyone is running around trying to figure out what it is about. So far, they have come up with buzzwords, mainly those three.”
Artwork by Julie Cockburn

Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:

65

An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.

A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today