Adam Serwer's take on the cowardice of the American press differs from mine:

I think it’s actually the conventions of journalism that are at fault here. As soon as Republicans started quibbling over the definition of torture, traditional media outlets felt compelled to treat the issue as a “controversial” matter, and in order to appear as though they weren’t taking a side, media outlets treated the issue as unsettled, rather than confronting a blatant falsehood.

But this doesn't work because the NYT had already decided, as the entire world did, that waterboarding was torture. It actually changed its own established rubric to placate Cheney. And yes, it would mean that the president and vice-president - who have publicly admitted to waterboarding - are war criminals not just in a rhetorical sense, but in a legal sense. To suggest otherwise is to knowingly publish untruths - and to take a position against one's own paper. This is not fairness; it is incoherence and cowardice in the face of power. Joyner actually thinks this is a defense of the NYT: 

To have insisted that the U.S. Government was engaged in torture when the leaders of said Government adamantly denied that what they were doing constituted torture and most citizens supported the “enhanced interrogation techniques” and dismissed as buffoons those worried about poor widdle Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would have not only been taking sides in an ongoing debate but taking a very unpopular stand.

Well, no newspaper should ever take a "very unpopular stand," should it? What the fuck happened to the notion of newspapers telling the truth in plain English, regardless of public or political pressure? That's what the press is supposed to do; it's why it exists in a democracy; and it is especially important that it do this when confronting the truth would indeed be unpopular. That's when we need the press the most. And it's when the NYT and much of the MSM simply ran for cover.

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