The Cowardice Of Cable News

Scott Horton analyzes media self-censorship on torture:

I discovered that when I gave interviews to major media on this subject, any time I used the word “torture” with reference to these techniques, the interview passage would not be used. At one point I was informed by a cable news network that “we put this on international, because we can’t use that word on the domestic feed.” “That word” was torture.

I was coached or told that the words “coercive interrogation technique” were fine, but “torture” was a red light. Why? The Administration objected vehemently to the use of this word. After all, President Bush has gone before the cameras and stated more than three dozen times “We do not torture.” By using the T-word, I was told, I was challenging the honesty of the president. You just couldn’t do that. [...]

Whereas before, torture was the “tool of the enemy,” now torture is the tool of Jack Bauer. Its use is a heroic act of defiance, often of petty bureaucratic limitations, or of conceited liberals whose personal conscience means more to them than the safety of their fellow citizens. While Bauer is presented as an ultimate heroic figure (and also a figure with some heroic flaws), those who challenge use of the rough stuff are naïve, and their presence and involvement in the national security process is threatening. We see a liberal who defends a Middle Eastern neighbor then under suspicion, and who winds up being killed because the neighbor is in fact a terrorist.

We’re looking at a Hollywood specialty: a “reality” show which is divorced from reality. It grossly simplifies necessarily complex facts, and it pares away critical factors which a responsible citizen should be thinking about. But more importantly, perhaps, it is a head-on attack on morality and ethics. The critics of torture are shallow figures, self-serving politiciansvain, arrogant, indifferent to the harm they are doing to society. But in fact the arguments against torture are profound and informed by centuries of human experience and religious doctrine. Torture has in the course of the last two hundred years emerged as an intrinsic evil in Christian teaching; the teaching of most churchesprotestant, Catholic, Evangelicalrejects the idea that a state can ever legitimately employ torture. [...]

We should start with a frank question: has “24” been created with an overtly political agenda, namely, to create a more receptive public audience for the Bush Administration’s torture policies? I think the answer to that question is now very clear. The answer is “yes.” In “Whatever It Takes,” Jane Mayer has waded through the sheaf of contacts between the show’s producer, Joel Surnow, and Vice President Cheney and figures right around him. There is little ambiguity about this point, namely, if the torture system introduced after 9/11 can be traced back to a single person, it is Vice President Cheney. He pushed relentlessly for use of the tools of the “dark side,” and he ruthlessly took out everyone who stood in his way. He also worked feverishly to disguise or cloak his intimate involvement in the entire process. I take it as a given that Surnow is working to develop public attitudes which are more accepting of torture; to overturn centuries-old prejudices against torture. He is a torture-enabler.