Archive for July 2010
A Harvard student paper (via Harper’s) documents the way the NY Times, LA Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today talk about waterboarding – do they call it torture, or do they use “softer” language, like “enhanced interrogation techniques”?
The headline finding is that before 2002, the NY Times and LA Times almost always called waterboarding torture; after 2002, they almost never use the word “torture” to describe the practice… except if the people doing the waterboarding are not American.
Pernicious. It relates to the bru-ha-ha over the Rolling Stone article that effectively ended Stanley McChrystal’s career – worth a read if you have not yet. (On page 1: “Who’s he going to dinner with?” I ask one of his aides. “Some French minister,” the aide tells me. “It’s fucking gay.” [N - Classy.]) It appears that other journalists are lining up to criticize the Hastings piece as unfair or unprofessional, or something along those lines. Matt Taibbi, also writing for the Stone, responded:
If I’m hearing Logan correctly, what Hastings is supposed to have done in that situation is interrupt these drunken assholes and say, “Excuse me, fellas, I know we’re all having fun and all, but you’re saying things that may not be in your best interest! As a reporter, it is my duty to inform you that you may end up looking like insubordinate douche bags in front of two million Rolling Stone readers if you don’t shut your mouths this very instant!” I mean, where did Logan go to journalism school – the Burson-Marsteller agency?
But Logan goes even further that that. See, according to Logan, not only are reporters not supposed to disclose their agendas to sources at all times, but in the case of covering the military, one isn’t even supposed to have an agenda that might upset the brass! Why? Because there is an “element of trust” that you’re supposed to have when you hang around the likes of a McChrystal. You cover a war commander, he’s got to be able to trust that you’re not going to embarrass him. Otherwise, how can he possibly feel confident that the right message will get out?
Taibbi goes on to point out that the Pentagon has 27,000 employees in their PR department – almost the size of the entire State Department. They don’t need any help getting their message out.
This is the kind of thing we can’t legislate or dictate. It’s cultural, I suppose. And I’m just speculating here, but I can’t help think that people respond to this kind of subtle manipulation. Newspapers need to fix more than their distribution mechanisms and business models if they want to survive; they also need to think long and hard about their purpose and mission.