An April 2010 student publication at the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, “Torture at Times: Waterboarding in the Media” exposed the major U.S. media (New York Times, L.A. Times, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal) brainwashing the American public on U.S. waterboarding as not torture.
The current debate over waterboarding has spawned hundreds of newspaper articles in the last two years alone. However, waterboarding has been the subject of press attention for over a century. 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.
The study itself is not at all surprising, because we know the nature of the U.S. media. You obviously will not hear much about this study in the major U.S. media either – try search for it. The study became “known” recently because certain more liberal online blogs talked about it.
But of course what is interesting to follow is New York Time’s defense of their behavior. In the Western world, certain things should clearly be wrong. But after you hear the perpetrators, what is clearly “wrong” can somehow be made to look “right.” For those of you uninitiated (in knowing the true nature of U.S./Western media), this is exactly the same type of behavior an Indian, Pankaj Mishra, once said of the European colonial powers:
“In VS Naipaul’s prophetic novel ‘A Bend in the River,’ Salim, the Indian-African narrator, laments his community’s political immaturity, envying Africa’s European conquerors: “an intelligent and energetic people”, who “wanted gold and slaves, like everybody else,” but who also “wanted statues put up to themselves as people who had done good things for the slaves”. Salim believes that the Europeans “could do one thing and say something quite different because they had an idea of what they owed to their civilisation”; and “they got both the slaves and statues”.”
I’ll leave the exercise of following the New York Time’s double-speak to you.