One of the big failings of traditional media is its fetishization of “objectivity” in the face of facts. At its best, objectivity is an attempt at fairness to present opposing views. But too often it reflexively reduces issues to non-sensical polarized he said/she said arguments without the journalistic application of facts. If I say the sky is green, is it the reporter’s job to report the story by finding an opposing view that states the sky is blue? That would be stupid. Yet this is how many stories get reported, no matter how stupid they are. News organizations too often hide behind claims of “objectivity”. Recent reporting on torture in The New York Times has angered many, and Clark Hoyt, the Times public editor took up the issue on Sunday.
The choice of a single word involved separate deliberations in New York
and the Washington bureau and demonstrated the linguistic minefields
that journalists navigate every day in the quest to describe the world
accurately and fairly. In a polarized atmosphere in which many
Americans believe the nation betrayed its most fundamental ideals in
the name of fighting terror and others believe extreme measures were
necessary to save lives, The Times is displeasing some who think
“brutal” is just a timid euphemism for torture and their opponents who
think “brutal” is too loaded.
At what point is torture to be called torture then? Greg Sargent calls out the Times:
Seriously, why won’t the paper use the T-word? Times
Washington editor Douglas Jehl told Hoyt that the current
administration describes waterboarding as torture, but the Bush
administration doesn’t. “On what basis should a newspaper render its
own verdict, short of charges being filed or a legal judgment
rendered?” Jehl asked.
But the bottom line is that by not using the term, the paper is
rendering a verdict, too — in favor of the Bush administration. There’s
a reason the Bushies don’t call waterboarding torture: It
happened on their watch, and calling it torture would be an admission
of guilt. Naturally, their official position is that they didn’t
torture. By not describing the acts committed under Bush as “torture,”
the paper is propping up the Bush argument. Period.
That’s the paper’s own choice, but it might as well admit it,
instead of imagining that there’s some kind of middle ground to stake