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  Print view: Harvard Study Documents Media Bias and Misreporting
REPORT:

Harvard Study Documents Media Bias and Misreporting

How the practice of Waterboarding was covered by America's four largest newspapers over the past 100 years.

by Stephen Lendman
Sunday, 18 July 2010

This writer's November 2009 article titled "Paid Lying: What Passes for Major Media Journalism" also discussed media bias in detail.
Harvard's report showed "a sudden, significant shift in major print media's treatment of waterboarding at the beginning of the 21st century," during the GW Bush administration, at best calling it "harsh" or "coercive," not torture.

It called major media journalism biased, irresponsible, and sensationalist - misreporting, distorting, exaggerating, misstating, or suppressing vital truths - serving state and corporate interests over the common good, including bankers controlling the nation's money, unpunished corruption at the highest levels, democracy for the select few, sham elections, a de facto one party state, imperial wars, occupation, and torture.

Harvard Report on Waterboarding

Prepared by Neal Desai, Andre Pineda, Majken Runquist and Mark Fusunyan, Harvard's JFK School of Government published their April 2010 Harvard Student Paper titled, "PDF graphic Torture at Times: Waterboarding in the Media," documenting how the practice was covered by America's four largest newspapers over the past 100 years - The New York Times (established in 1851), Los Angeles Times (established 1881), Wall Street Journal established 1889), and USA Today (established 1982, America's most widely circulated newspaper, why it was chosen for the study).

Waterboarding Defined

By any definition, it's torture, strictly prohibited under US and international law at all times, under all circumstances, with no allowed exceptions.

Yet the Bush administration defended it, saying it's used to train US service members to resist torture, when, in fact, training involves a cloth placed over their face one time (perhaps twice) for about 20 seconds, a love tap compared to detainee torture, using so-called "enhanced interrogation" techniques.

It involves six or more 40-second "applications" in each two hour session, multiple ones daily, forcing water in detainees' mouths and noses for 12 minutes, repeated daily, sometimes for weeks.

Harvard writers defined it as follows:

"....the practice of intentionally inducing the sensation of drowning in the victim....achieved in a number of ways, including but not limited to (1) placing a cloth or plastic wrap, (2) pouring water directly into the mouth and nose of the victim, (3) placing a stick between the victim's teeth and pouring water into his or her mouth, often until the victim's stomach becomes distended, then forcing the water back out of the victim's mouth, and (4) dunking and holding the victim's head under water."

Merriam Webster online calls it "an interrogation technique in which water is forced into a detainee's mouth and nose so as to induce the sensation of drowning."

The Duhaime.org legal dictionary defines it as:

"A criminal investigation technique whereby a person suspected of having or withholding relevant information is blindfolded and bound on the back, sometimes with the face covered with porous or nonporous material, and subjected to water poured over their mouth and nose such as to simulate drowning and to thus, under duress, elicit information."

Wikipedia calls it:

"a form of torture that consists of immobilizing the subject on his/her back with the head inclined downwards; water is then poured over the face into breathing passages, thus triggering (a sensation) of drowning. In contrast to submerging the head face-forward in water, waterboarding precipitates an almost immediate gag reflex (causing) extreme pain, dry drowning, damage to (the) lungs (and) brain....from oxygen deprivation (as well as) other physical injuries including broken bones due to struggling against restraints, lasting psychological damage or, if uninterrupted, death."

Imagine enduring it 183 times in one month, what CIA interrogators did to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (besides years of other horrific tortures), forcing him to admit being the 9/11 mastermind, when, he's almost certainly innocent, confessing only to stop the pain, or because he was so psychologically damaged, he regurgitated words told him with no comprehension.

Press Coverage of Waterboarding

Mentioned or examined for over 100 years, almost uniformly it was called torture until Bush administration usage became public in 2004.

The New York Times

From 1901 - 1925, The Times seldom called it torture, doing so in only 11.9% of its articles. From 1931 - 2004, it called or implied it torture in 81.5% of articles, then from 2002 - 2008 in only 1.4% (2 articles), neither about America. Times opinion pieces "were more likely than news (stories) to call waterboarding torture during all time periods," but not often or in detail enough to matter.

The Los Angeles Times

During America's war on the Phillippines (1899 - 1902), The Times used the term "water cure," calling it torture in 63.6% of articles in 1901 and 02. From 1902 - 1917, in only 3.1%. From 1917 - 1935, no coverage. Then from 1935 - 2001, it was called torture 96.3% of the time. No mention again until 2006. From 2006 - 08, in only 4.8% of articles. Only one Times opinion piece mentioned it before 2003. Thereafter, it followed the same pattern as in New York Times editorials and op-eds, mentioning it more often than in news articles, not enough or explicitly, however, to matter.

Wall Street Journal and USA Today

Neither paper has a long history of coverage, USA Today publishing only for the past 28 years this September. It first mentioned it in 2004, thereafter never saying or implying it was torture, except in opinion piece coverage like the above papers.

Before 2005, the Journal mentioned it only in two articles, one calling it torture. From 2005 - 08, one mentioned it in East Germany under its communist government. In 2008, the paper either had no coverage or quoted others calling it torture. Unlike the above papers, Journal opinion pieces followed the same pattern as its news stories, only one saying or implying it was torture, steering clear (like the above papers) of condemning Bush administration practices.

Articles in the papers studied "were far more likely to classify waterboarding as torture" in other countries or individuals in them, regurgitating government propaganda about domestic use, even though America's longstanding policy condemned the practice, a November 4, 2007 Evan Wallach Washington Post article saying so.

Headlined, "Waterboarding Used to Be a Crime," it called it "simulated drowning," explaining the procedure as follows:

Victims experience "sensations of drowning: struggle, panic, breath-holding, swallowing, vomiting, taking water into the lungs and, eventually, the same feeling of not being able to breathe that one feels after being punched in the gut." It added that studies show "it can cause severe psychological trauma, such as panic attacks, for years."

Further, America knows a lot about waterboarding, the government - "whether acting alone before domestic courts, commissions and courts-martial or as part of the world community - has not only condemned (it), but has severely punished those who applied it," including Japanese soldiers against US and allied POWs, and their superiors for ordering it.

In 1983, federal prosecutors charged a Texas sheriff and three of his deputies with "subject(ing) prisoners to a suffocating water torture ordeal (to) coerce confessions," waterboarding by any definition. They were convicted, the sheriff getting 10 years for using torture.

The public record shows that US military tribunals and civil courts examined water-based interrogations, concluding they constituted torture. Evan Wallach should know. He's a US Court of International Trade judge and law professor at Brooklyn Law School and New York Law School.

Final Comments

Harvard's report showed "a sudden, significant shift in major print media's treatment of waterboarding at the beginning of the 21st century," during the GW Bush administration, at best calling it "harsh" or "coercive," not torture.

Most often, however, they reported nothing, staying neutral, suppressing the truth about government lawlessness, except others, not allies, regimes America vilifies to justify targeting them, including isolation, sanctions or war, the major media in lockstep defending US policies, even illegal ones like high-level corruption, suppressing the nation's worst ever ecological disaster, premeditated war, occupation, and torture - official policy under Bush and Obama.


Stephen Lendman

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. His blog is sjlendman.blogspot.com.

Listen to Lendman's cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Mr. Lendman's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.



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This story was published on July 18, 2010.
 



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