Truth is Just One Side of the Story

Arthur S. Brisbane, the Public Editor of the New York Times, ably demonstrated Sunday why the New York Times requires the Public to be Edited:

The controversy over The Times’s use of the term “torture,” which was discussed two years ago by my predecessor, Clark Hoyt, has its roots in the newsroom’s aspiration to be impartial in a dispute that is both political and legal…

For his part, [Executive Editor Bill] Keller affirms that The Times has not “banished the word ‘torture,’ but we are careful how we use it” and avoid its use in contexts where it might appear The Times is taking sides.

Ummm, taking sides in what? Is the Times afraid that torturers will view its news coverage as unfair?

Actually, yes.

If you’re not familiar with the background, enjoying how the Times writes around the T-word in news stories — at least when the T is conducted by the USA — has been a lefty spectator sport for years. What critical readers saw as Toadying to Bushies, the Times regarded as Enhanced Discretion.

The debate over Times Truthiness was inevitably revived in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s Enhanced Dispatch, when the question arose whether an essential clue to his whereabouts was gathered by America’s Good Cop or Bad Cop.

Or, as the story was headlined in print…

Harsh Methods of Questioning Debated Again

…compared to how the same story was headlined online:

Bin Laden Raid Revives Debate on Value of Torture

Which reminds us: How much would the Times charge for a No-Spin Paywall?

Mr. Brisbane happily informs us that this is an improvement in Times Torturclature:

From my own reading of the Shane-Savage article, and after querying Mr. Shane and Bill Keller, the executive editor, I would say that Times policy on this appears to be in a state of equipoise — holding steady right in the middle. In fact, it may have migrated some since Mr. Hoyt wrote about it — “harsh” and “brutal” are still in evidence but the use of “torture” is sprinkled throughout, as well.

Equipoise is such a lovely, gentle word, especially when used to describe debates over controlled drowning. But the thing is, there is no debate — just a brazen attempt by the previous Administration, implicitly endorsed by the current one, to escape the legal consequences of torture by calling it something else.

And what Mr. Brisbane describes as “The Times newsroom’s dilemma” would be much easier to resolve if, instead of serving their sources, they served their readers.

Oh, and, y’know, the truth. But that would be taking sides in the contentious debate over whether the New York Times practices journalism.

The Other Torture Debate [NYT]

6 comments:

7:32 am • Monday • May 16, 2011

One of the important lessons that Jewish organizations learned ages ago was that you don’t publicly debate Holocaust denialists, because the minute you do, you legitimize their position, you grant their claim that there is a debate about whether or not the Holocaust actually ocurred.

It would behoove America’s news organizations to act the same way on issues such as torture, evolution and global warming. You don’t act as if there is a legitimate debate over whether global warming is ocurring just because a few oil company shills start writing letters to the editor claiming it is not. You don’t act as if there is a legitimate debate over the origin, evolution and diversification of life on this planet just because a few unaccredited Bible college graduates insist that the Earth was created 6000 years ago. You don’t suddenly start acting as if there’s a legitimate debate over whether strapping a guy down to an inclined board, stuffing a towel in his mouth and pouring water over his face to extract information is torture just because a reactionary right-wing government decides one day that it is not.

Sadly, the media have taken the precise opposite position, deciding that as soon as anyone voices opposition to a well established idea, there is a legitimate debate about that idea.

What we need is higher standards of truth in media, not some bogus, moral-relativistic “impartiality” that merely serves to undermine the truth.

8:12 am • Monday • May 16, 2011

@Serolf Divad: But if you do that you remove ‘controversy’, the temperature drops and the news doesn’t seem vital any more. It becomes kind of boring without the loonies. And since we have for-profit news we’re stuck with outfits like the Times equipoising themselves to earn our admiration for their fearless acts of self-congratulation. When one lives or dies by the opinion-mongers (aka ‘critics’) on its payroll one tends to be made skeptical of the entire endeavor. Anything reported in its pages of which I have had direct factual knowledge has been wrong on every count. There is an honorable tradition to the outside observer but the Times ain’t it.

9:06 am • Monday • May 16, 2011

@Serolf Divad:
I have been a Reader here for sometime, however I registered simply because I had to thank you for the brilliance and insight of your comment. It is SO frustrating to watch this process, and to have it labeled as legitimate debate here in this country. If so, then the kind of interactions that occur on the Jerry Springer show between obviously insane people are also legitimate democratic and intelligent debate.
Debate and Uproar… NOT the same.
Obama should be forced to read your remarks until he gets the idea. Or, most likely he HAS the idea and chooses to behave as he does because he benefits from the Impotent Uproar too. Well, let’s face it – they all do O_o

9:18 am • Monday • May 16, 2011

It’s a good thing these fucking pukes weren’t around when Ellsberg showed up at the front door with records that proved the Defense establishment was systematically lying to the Congress and the American people. By the time twits like Kellar came up with a nice way to euphemize lying, Ellsberg would have been placed in front of a firing squad.

9:35 am • Monday • May 16, 2011

@Serolf Divad: You get the toaster.

9:40 am • Monday • May 16, 2011

@Serolf Divad:
/claps/

It’s part of the problem with commercializing the newz. Controversy (even manufactured, irrelevant or stupid) sells.

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