This blog, along with others, compiled some anecdotes and research to show how the New York Times had always called "waterboarding" torture – until the Bush-Cheney administration came along. Instead of challenging this government lie, the NYT simply echoed it, with Bill Keller taking instructions from John Yoo on a key, legally salient etymology. Now, we have the first truly comprehensive study of how Bill Keller, and the editors of most newspapers, along with NPR, simply rolled over and became mouthpieces for war criminals, rather than telling the unvarnished truth to their readers and listeners in plain English:
Examining the four newspapers with the highest daily circulation in the country, we found a significant and sudden shift in how newspapers characterized waterboarding. From the early 1930s until the modern story broke in 2004, the newspapers that covered waterboarding almost uniformly called the practice torture or implied it was torture: The New York Times characterized it thus in 81.5% (44 of 54) of articles on the subject and The Los Angeles Times did so in 96.3% of articles (26 of 27).
By contrast, from 2002‐2008, the studied newspapers almost never referred to waterboarding as torture. The New York Times called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture in just 2 of 143 articles (1.4%). The Los Angeles Times did so in 4.8% of articles (3 of 63). The Wall Street Journal characterized the practice as torture in just 1 of 63 articles (1.6%). USA Today never called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture.
In addition, the newspapers are much more likely to call waterboarding torture if a country other than the United States is the perpetrator. In The New York Times, 85.8% of articles (28 of 33) that dealt with a country other than the United States using waterboarding called it torture or implied it was torture while only 7.69% (16 of 208) did so when the United States was responsible. The Los Angeles Times characterized the practice as torture in 91.3% of articles (21 of 23) when another country was the violator, but in only 11.4% of articles (9 of 79) when the United States was the perpetrator.
So the NYT went from calling waterboarding torture 81.5 percent of the time to calling it such 1.4 percent of the time. Had the technique changed? No. Only the government implementing torture and committing war crimes changed. If the US does it, it's not torture.
The editors who insisted on these changes remain liars and cowards and a disgrace to journalism and a free society. They should quit for this kind of open deception and craven cowardice in putting power before truth. They remind you that if you really want to understand what is going on in the world, the New York Times will only publish what the government deems is fit to print – even in its choice of words.
(Photo: Waterboard displayed at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Prisoners' legs were shackled to the bar on the right, their wrists were restrained to the brackets on the left, and water was poured over their face, using blue watering can, to drown them.)