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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

It all depends on the meaning...

For a nation that had a lot of fun with a former president who parsed the word "is," you would think there would be less ambiguity over words like "waterboarding" and "torture."

But you would be wrong, and the "liberal media" is as much to blame over this scandalous state of affairs as are the policy makers that Michael Mukasey tried so hard defend from future war crimes s charges.

Check out this discussion on WNYC's "On the Media" (transcript here, audio here). Listen as editors of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times argue that since every Webster's definition of drowning includes death, this medieval method isn't really torture. The Tribune's deputy editor Randy Weissman.
Simply put, if you look in Webster's, drowning is death, and waterboarding would only fit that definition if, if the prisoner died. Ask most people if a person drowns what happens, you -— I would be willing to bet you that they would say he died.
So as long as the person doesn't actually die, he or she hasn't been subject to a process that simulates drowning, therefore it's not torture?

Never mind that military experts and some torture victims like John McCain tend to disagree. Says Malcolm Nance is a former instructor at the U.S. Naval Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape School in San Diego:
That's not an accurate description at all. And I've seen every one of the types of waterboarding that has been portrayed in the press, that's been described in the press. It's all still the waterboarding process, and waterboarding is intended to put water down into your throat, into your trachea and then, with enough water, into your lungs. You are drowning.
What's going on here? Listen to Rudy Giuliani:
It depends on how it's done. It depends on who does it. I think the way it's been defined in the media, it shouldn't be done, the way in which they have described it, particularly in the liberal media. But I'd have to see what the real description of it is, because I've learned something, being in public life as long as I have. And I hate to shock anybody with this -- but the newspapers don't always describe it accurately.
"It all depends on how it's done." "Newspapers don't always describe it accurately." Sound familiar?

I thought when I signed on that my job as a reporter was to ask questions, find out what the facts were and report them. No matter whose ox was gored. Today's journalist apparently also feels the need to couch those findings in some sort of cloak of "objectivity" that absolves from from any appearance of bias.

Not that taking that, pardon the expression, tortured position, helps in the face of politicians looking to take even more tortured positions to protect themselves from war crimes and score points for being tough.

Yet compare the outcry over this semantic dance about torture to the media reaction to Bill Clinton's parsing of the word "is."

Objectivity is a myth. People have innate biases that play a role in everything from deciding what politician to support to what ice cream to eat. A good journalist tries to recognize that by being, in the words now tainted by Fox News, "fair and balanced." But nowhere does that responsibility include accepting spin when it flies in the face of reality and common sense.

By falling back on Webster's to avoid the slings and arrows of outraged demagogues, the media is failing to do its job.

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Blogger Pith Helmet said...

I'm about as right-wing as they come, and I find the waterboarding apologists reprehensible. How thick do the blinders have to be to embrace waterboarding after listening to Nance's testimony.

November 15, 2007 4:30 PM  

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