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Confirmed: Newspapers Screwed with the Word "Torture" Confirmed: Newspapers Screwed with the Word "Torture"

Confirmed: Newspapers Screwed with the Word "Torture"

by Andrew Price
July 3, 2010

Remember the national debate over waterboarding, and whether or not it's torture? A new study (PDF) from a group of researchers at Harvard shows how shiftily our newspapers behaved during that whole episode.

The researchers looked at archives dating from the 1930s to see whether America's newspapers described waterboarding as torture. What they found is that before America was waterboarding other people (back when we were convicting Japanese soldiers for doing it) newspapers called it torture. Once we started doing it, the T-word didn't apply.

Here's the abstract:


As Glenn Greenwald points out, many news outlets made deliberate decisions to stop describing waterboarding as torture. NPR's ombudsman explained that organization's problem with the word "torture".

...the problem is that the word torture is loaded with political and social implications for several reasons, including the fact that torture is illegal under U.S. law and international treaties the United States has signed.

I get that a news organization might not want to prejudge a legitimate debate about what constitutes torture (and while I think waterboarding is torture, I don't think it's beyond debate). But here's the thing: It looks like NPR is just redefining waterboarding to avoid the conclusion that America is doing something illegal, and that seems very backward.

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