17 July 2008

Thoughts On: Modern Journalism (Or: Beware The 'Jack Bauer' Veto!)


George Carlin, who passed away recently, would have found this right up his alley. Check out the language in this New York Times article (Veto of Bill on C.I.A. Tactics Affirms Bush's Legacy): 

President Bush on Saturday further cemented his legacy of fighting for strong executive powers, using his veto to shut down a Congressional effort to limit the Central Intelligence Agency’s latitude to subject terrorism suspects to harsh interrogation techniques. Mr. Bush vetoed a bill that would have explicitly prohibited the agency from using interrogation methods like water boarding, a technique in which restrained prisoners are threatened with drowning and that has been the subject of intense criticism at home and abroad. Many such techniques are prohibited by the military and law enforcement agencies.

Notice how expertly the “debate” has been re-framed. Notice how the article bends over backwards to avoid saying the obvious. (Begin by realizing that this is an article from the New York Times, supposedly one of the best newspapers on the planet, and a bastion of the “liberal media bias”.) “Harsh interrogation techniques”?  Should we attack that from a poor writing standpoint, or from a poor ethics standpoint? Either way, the word is 'torture'.  Not using the word torture in either the title or first two paragraphs of a story on torture is a triumph of the modern age of bull***t journalism.

In the very first line, isn’t it nice to see the author allowing that what George W. Bush is really doing with his veto is fighting for “a legacy” of “strong executive powers”. All Bush did was use his veto. That’s it. He’s used nine of them so far. (And, as the article points out later, eight of those vetoes have come during the last year, with the Democrats have had control of Congress.) Where's this legacy hooey coming from? Sounds to me like he’s just being pissy and partisan.

"Terrorism suspects” are of course just "suspects", who are, of course, “people convicted of nothing yet whatsoever.” You yourself could become a terrorism suspect.  All somebody has to do is transpose two cell phone digits in an affidavit. 

So let’s try rewriting the article as it might’ve been written in 1955, an age before such concessions were happily being made to authority. 1955 is the year that the U.S. Congress has just accepted the Geneva Convention as binding U.S. law:

President Vetoes Torture Bill, Stands Partisan On Illegal Practice. President Bush on Saturday vetoed a bill from Congress prohibiting the torture of detained and uncharged U.S. citizens of Arabic descent. The bill is specifically aimed at ending the C.I.A.’s use of water boarding, a technique in which restrained persons are repeatedly dunked into water to simulate the sensation of drowning. The technique is already illegal according to U.S. law and international treaty. 

Hm, that’s better. A line might be added that after the Second World War, Japanese officers were charged with war crimes for water boarding Allied soldiers, but I might just be getting greedy. I think the paragraph is as stark and depressing as it needs to be already. 

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