An amazing admission from a NYT spokesman:
“As the debate over interrogation of terror suspects grew post-9/11, defenders of the practice (including senior officials of the Bush administration) insisted that it did not constitute torture. When using a word amounts to taking sides in a political dispute, our general practice is to supply the readers with the information to decide for themselves. Thus we describe the practice vividly, and we point out that it is denounced by international covenants and in American tradition as a form of torture.”
The Times spokesman added that outside of the news pages, editorials and columnists “regard waterboarding as torture and believe that it fits all of the moral and legal definitions of torture.” He continued: “So that's what we call it, which is appropriate for the opinion pages.”
But it is not an opinion that waterboarding is torture; it is a fact, recognized by everyone on the planet as such - and by the NYT in its news pages as such - for centuries. What we have here is an admission that the NYT did change its own established position to accommodate the Cheneyite right.
So their journalism is dictated by whatever any government says. In any
dispute, their view is not: what is true? But: how can we preserve our
access to the political right and not lose pro-torture readers? If you
want a locus classicus for why the legacy media has collapsed, look no
So if anyone wants to get the NYT to use a different word in order to obfuscate the truth, all they need to do is make enough noise so there is a political dispute about a question. If there's a political dispute, the NYT will retreat. And so we now know that its core ethos is ceding the meaning of words to others, rather than actually deciding for itself how to call torture torture. Orwell wrote about this in his classic "Politics and the English Language." If newspapers will not defend the English language from the propaganda of war criminals, who will? And it is not as if they haven't made this call before - when they routinely called waterboarding torture. They already had a view. They changed it so as not to offend. In so doing, they knowingly printed newspeak in their paper - not because they believed in it, but because someone else might.
This is not editing. It is surrender. It is not journalism; it is acquiescence to propaganda. It strikes me as much more egregious a failing than, say, the Jayson Blair scandal. Because it reaches to the very top, was a conscious decision and reveals the empty moral center in the most important newspaper in the country.
When historians look back and try to understand how the US came to be a country that legitimizes torture, the New York Times will be seen to have played an important role in euphemizing it, enabling it, and entrenching it. The evidence shows conclusively that there is not a shred of argument behind the dramatic shift in 2002 - just plain cowardice.
In my view, the people who made that decision should resign. They have revealed that they are nothing but straws in the wind - in a time when moral clarity and courage were most needed.