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Newspapers Helped Redefine Torture

2010 July 26

Student Journalists Document the Panderingof Major Media to the Bush Administration:

Newspapers Collaborated in Redefining Torture

“On the one hand, waterboarding is torture. On the other hand….I’m sorry – there is no other hand. Waterboarding is torture, period. It’s been that way for decades…”

That’s the compelling lead of Will Bunch’s July 1, 2010, post on Media Matters for America.  It’s titled “Torture” Study Reveals Appalling Cowardice of America’s Newspapers and it goes on:

“…it was torture when we went after Japanese war criminals who used the ancient and inhumane interrogation tactic, it was torture when Pol Pot and some of the worst dictators known to mankind used it against their own people, and it was torture to the U.S. military which once punished soldiers who adopted the grim practice.
…….“And waterboarding was described as “torture,” almost without fail, in America’s newspapers. Until 2004, after the arrival of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and their criminal notions of “enhanced interrogations.” 

Please note that Bunch’s article includes sourcing for each of the above assertions, if you have any doubts about their accuracy.
…..He’s reacting to a devastating new study from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Torture at Times: Waterboarding in the Media. The study documents the fact that, since the 1930’s, America’s major newspapers had almost invariably referred to waterboarding as torture, or implied that it was torture, (The New York Times in 81.5% of its articles mentioning the subject; The Los Angeles Times in 96.3% of its articles.) Yet, after the controversy over the Bush administation’s use of the practice hit the news the same papers almost never referred to waterboarding as torture (The New York Times, 1.4% of articles; The Los Angeles Times, 4.8%.)

Credit Where it’s Due:

“Never before in my adult life,” says Bunch, “have I been so ashamed of my profession, journalism.” Yet neither he nor any of the other journalists whose commentaries I’ve seen has done anything more than mention the fact that the study was authored not by professional journalists, but by students. It’s both remarkable and disturbing that, while  a host of professional writers have taken anecdotal note of the mainstream media’s acquiescence in administration “newspeak,” we had to wait on a group of students to come up with the hard evidence.
…..So, I want to at least take this opportunity to give much deserved credit to the student authors: Torture at Times: Waterboarding in the Media was done at Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy by law student Neal Desai and students Andre Pineda, Majken Runquist and Mark Fusunyan. The research team also included students Katy Glenn, Gabrielle Gould, Michelle Katz, Henry Lichtblau, Maggie Morgan, Sophia Wen and Sandy Wong.
…..Let’s hope we’ll see some of those names showing up as bylines in the major media not too long from now – and let’s hope they manage to hang onto their commitment to getting the facts.

Other online coverage of the Report include Bunch’s comments on the NY Times’ initial response to the study, Glenn Greenwald, at, Adam Serwer, at American Prospect,  and no doubt many others.


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