Friday, August 8, 2014

Holy Euphemism, Batman! Torture IS Torture.

You're right, Robin. Cowardice does, ahem, blow.

I'm glad that the New York Times has finally decided, officially, to call torture torture. Its tortured logic -- we are here to report, not to judge -- was embarrassingly limp. I love how new Editor Dean Baquet described the change as driven by reporters, who asked that the paper "recalibrate its language."

The truth is, like many mainstream outlets, the Times was guilty of abject cowardice, pure and simple. I grant that they may have been intimidated by the Bush administration. It wasn't for the first time, but for the "Paper of Record," let the record show their cowardice.

About five years back, I heard the NPR ombudsman, Alicia C. Sheperd, declare on air that she was advising all NPR reporters to refrain from using the word torture but instead use the terms enhanced or harsh interrogation techniques, declaring it was not the reporters' job to use "loaded" words.

I will not waste my time quoting Alicia C. Shepard, and for all I know my beef is not with her but with the editors above her who urged her to adopt her position. But I do urge you to read the following two articles she wrote on the subject. Here is her defense and here is her defense of her defense. Read the comments following the articles to get the sense of the public response, which is, needless to say, not kind to her.

From the moment I heard Ms. Shepard lay down the official NPR position on not using the word torture, I, a twenty-year-long annual contributor to NPR/PBS, stopped contributing. I haven't given them a penny since. A friend of mine recently chided me for it, since I listen to NPR and watch PBS daily. It was food for thought, and I was considering contributing again. This change of heart announced by the New York Times has angered me anew.

If and when I can find evidence that NPR has also changed its views, I may consider contributing again, that is unless they are spineless or obfuscating in the way they announce their policy shift. If it's recalibrating their language, I'll spend my NPR contribution on pizza and beer, thank you very much.

Note. I found this in Shepard's entry in Wikipedia:
In June 2009, Shepard, acting in the capacity of NPR Ombudsman, deflected objections to NPR's use of euphemisms such as "enhanced interrogations" as a replacement for the word "torture" in their reporting about waterboarding, stating: "No matter how many distinguished groups — the International Red Cross, the U.N. High Commissioners — say waterboarding is torture, there are responsible people who say it is not. Former President Bush, former Vice President Cheney, their staff and their supporters obviously believed that waterboarding terrorism suspects was necessary to protect the nation's security. One can disagree strongly with those beliefs and their actions. But they are due some respect for their views, which are shared by a portion of the American public. So, it is not an open-and-shut case that everyone believes waterboarding to be torture."
Shepard herself stated that she personally believed waterboarding was torture in an interview with Bob Garfield of On the Media.
What is detestable about her statement is that the Red Cross or the U.N. might believe what Bush and Cheney did was torture, but because Bush and Cheney disagree, hey, views differ! So, what's an ethical reporter going to do??

BTW, her supporting her argument with "[their views] are shared by a portion of the American public" is crap. Should NPR refer to Barack Obama as "purportedly American" or speak of evolution as "a wildly controversial theory?" Sheesh.

Final tragic note. Sheperd taught media ethics at Georgetown during the years she was NPR ombudsman. Teaching by example! George Orwell would have been proud.

Final silly but true note. Shepard said NPR Managing Editor David Sweeney made her do it! All right then, bygones!

Here's professor Shepard teaching her kids that sometimes media
ethics means you have to help your government cover up torture.

After quite a search, I can't find that NPR has changed its policy toward (the word) torture since Shepard's pronouncements. Shameful.

No comments:

Post a Comment