“Torture” Is “Politically Correct”?

Andrew Sullivan —  Jul 7 2010 @ 11:16am

For some reason, I missed this NYT blog-post about the paper's decision to abandon the word "torture" to describe, er, torture. Bill Keller's response is an appalling piece of weaseling:

“I think this Kennedy School study — by focusing on whether we have embraced the politically correct term of art in our news stories — is somewhat misleading and tendentious.”

In an e-mail message on Thursday, Mr. Keller said defenders of the practice of waterboarding, “including senior officials of the Bush administration,” insisted that it did not constitute torture.

“When using a word amounts to taking sides in a political dispute, our general practice is to supply the readers with the information to decide for themselves,” Mr. Keller wrote. “Thus we describe the practice vividly, and we point out that it is denounced by international covenants and human rights advocates as a form of torture. Nobody reading the Times’s coverage could be ignorant of the extent of the practice (much of that from information we broke) or mistake it for something benign (we usually use the word ‘brutal.’)”

But words matter, and the only reason there is any dispute about whether waterboarding is torture is because "senior officials of the Bush administration” were trying to avoid prosecution for war crimes. It is the role of a newspaper not to mimic the propaganda of the powerful, or act as their legal defenders, but to use plain English accurately. The NYT always did this before 2002, so it has been caught red-handed caving into political pressure. The Washington Post is just as bad (and they have actually published brazen defenses of torture and hired a man as a columnist deeply implicated in the war crimes of the last administration):

“After the use of the term ‘torture’ became contentious, we decided that we wouldn’t use it in our voice to describe waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques authorized by the Bush administration."

There you have the Cheneyism – "harsh interrogation techniques." The truth is: the NYT and WaPo did not avoid controversy; they plainly endorsed the Bush administration's lies. They put their own voice behind that of war criminals.