Listen up National Public Radio. Take my name off your mailing list. Don’t look to me for any more pledges. You will get nothing from me until you take a deep breath, swallow once or twice, take a drink of water, or throw down a shot, clear your throat and screw up your courage until you’re able to say t-o-r-t-u-r-e on the air.
Yes! It’s the dreaded‘t’ word that you have chosen not to utter for fear it will upset your sources and get the rightwing noise machine all in a tizzy.
Your ombudsman, Alicia C. Shepard gives a tortured (Whoops! Sorry, I mean “enhanced”) explanation for your decision, which Glenn Greenwald masterfully deconstructs. So, let me add some comments of my own.
Alicia frets that. “…the word torture is loaded with political and social implications…”
In other words, the word is too unhygienic for NPR’s delicate tastes. It’s smeared with blood, urine and feces, so it offends their liberal sensibilities. All good journalists who crawl after the official line fall all over themselves to use the “value-free” language so loved by plutocrats and oligarchs. It doesn’t upset anybody.
Alicia informs us that, “A basic rule of vivid writing is: ‘Show Don’t Tell.” In other words, use facts not coded language.” I guess this means that if a reporter is covering a murder, he should avoid using the word “murder” because it is coded language. So, he should call it a “prematurely ceased life experience.” That’s why we don’t refer to bombed civilians in Afghanistan as “dead people,” even though they are quite dead. “Collateral damage” is much politer, and today’s journalists prefer politeness over truth.
But, Alicia is on a roll. Next she warns us that, “If journalist use the word ‘torture’ then they can be accused of siding with those who are particularly and visible still angry at the previous administration.”
As Greenwald correctly points out, “Here’s the nub of the matter—the crux of journalistic decay in America.”
There was a time, in the time before time, when a journalist spoke the truth and didn’t give a good goddamn who it pissed off. Thank god journalists aren’t physicians. If they were, nobody would be sick because they would be afraid of upsetting their patients by telling them the truth.
Next, Brian Duffy, NPRs former managing editor reassures us that, “President Bush said, ‘We do not torture—period.’ Yet water-boarding and several other tactics no approved in the Army Field Manual were approved by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Council (OLC) during his administration.”
That makes it okay! Some legal hacks twist and torture (Damn! I mean “enhance”) language in a way that is roundly condemned by legal scholars, and , in NPR’s eyes, that means torture isn’t torture even if it is, but it isn’t because they hacks say it isn’t, so NPR will avoid using the word because they might bump into the truth if they did.
I.F. Stone once said that all a reporter needs to remember is two words: “Governments lie.”
That tremor NPR feels beneath its feet is Stone doing back flips in his grave.
NPR cowers and the public remains uninformed. This is what keeps our oligarchs happy.